Irmin Henkel achieved rapid prominence as a portraitist in South Africa, and his skills made him the almost automatic choice for official government commissions. He possessed an engaging insouciant manner and sense of humour, which relaxed the sitter and enabled the artist to observe his characteristic disposition and expressions.
His portraits were usually effective likenesses of the subject, but they fluctuate markedly in artistic quality. Irmin Henkel’s handling of subject matter other than portraits was relaxed and colourful; his style in all was usually loosely naturalistic.
- 1939 – 1946 Irwin Henkel studied medicine, during and after service in the German army (practicing orthopedic surgeon), Largely self-taught in art.
Short Artist Biography
- 1939 – 1945 Irmin Henkel drew and painted as a hobby between study and military service; in 1943 he helped to arrange an exhibition of paintings by medical students in Bonn. First portrait commissions.
- 1947 – 1951 After one year of medical practice, Irmin Henkel switched to full-time painting; mainly abstract.
- 1948 – 1951 He lived in Ascona, Switzerland; influenced by the work of Schmidt-Rotluff to resume landscape-painting.
- 1951 He settled in South Africa; commissioned to paint portrait of Prime Minister Dr DF Malan; this was followed by numerous portrait commissions.
- 1953 Irwin Henkel obtained a South African medical degree and commenced practice in Pretoria.
- 1966 Irmin Henkel designed the Verwoerd Memorial Stamps.
- 1969 Completed large commissioned canvas depicting the South African Cabinet of 1961 (the year that South Africa became a Republic); the painting hangs in the dining-room of the House of Assembly, with Roworth’s National Convention.
- 1970 Irwin Henkel regarded almost as official “court portraitist” to South African Government, began to seek diversion from the severity of exclusive portrait work” in still-life, nude and landscape themes. Prior to his sudden death, he had reduced his medical work to a minimum and was virtually a full-time painter.
- 1946 First one-man art exhibition, Bonn.
- 1951 First South African one-man art exhibition, Pretoria.
- 1952 Van Riebeeck Tercent Art Exhibition, Cape Town.
- 1960 Second Quad of South African Art.
- 1966 Republic Festival Exhibition, Pretoria; prestige exhibition, Pretoria Art Museum.
- 1977 “The Art of the Portrait”, Pretoria Art Museum.
- 1978 memorial Tribute, Pretoria Art Museum.
Public Art collections
Pretoria Art Museum; Pietersburg Collection.