Alexis Preller


Born: 1911, Pretoria, South Africa 

Died: 1975, Pretoria, South Africa

Alexis Preller was born in Pretoria and attended Pretoria Boys High School. After completing school he worked as a clerk before persuading his family to allow him to seek a future as an artist. In 1934 he set off for London where he met JH Pierneef, who advised him to enroll at Westminster School of Art.

In 1935 he returned to Pretoria where he held his first exhibition. In 1937 he went to Paris and studied art at Grande Chaumiere, under Othon Frieze. On his return from these studies Alexis Preller stayed in Swaziland for a while. In 1938 he joined the New Group, and was included on their first exhibition. In 1939 he went on safari to the Congo but the outbreak of World War IIbrought him back to Pretoria.

After the war in 1946 he went on a study-trip to London and Paris. Between 1948 – 1949 he travelled Zanzibar and the Seychelles where he produced many paintings.

In 1953 Alexis Preller went on another study-trip, this time to Italy and Egypt. In 1954 he settled on a farm near Hartebeespoortdam. In the year of 1968 Alexis Preller undertook a trip to Greece and Italy, this is also when he began with his autobiography. He held his last exhibition in Johannesburg in 1975, and later in the year he suffered a heart attack and passed away.

Artist CV

Art Education

- 1934 Alexis Preller studied art at Westminster School of Art, London, under Mark Getler.

- 1937 Studied art at Grande Chaumiere, Paris, under Othon Frieze.

- 1946 Study-trip to London and Paris.

 - 1953 Study-tour of Italy and Egypt.

Short Artist Biography

- 1911 to 1934 Alexis Preller was educated at Pretoria Boys High School, active in theatrical ventures; after completing school Alexis Preller worked for some time as a clerk before persuading his family to allow him to seek a future in the arts.

- 1934 Encouraged by his lifelong friend, Norman Eaton, Alexis Preller set off for London; there JH Pierneef advised him to enroll at Westminster School; with guidance from Gertler he made the choice of painting as his career.

- 1935 Returned to Pretoria via East Coast of Africa, held his first art exhibition; early works were emotional with strong colour and distortion.

- 1937 On return from further studies in Paris Alexis Preller stayed for a while in Swaziland painting continuously; exhibited in Johannesburg; referred to in Press as 'South African Gauguin'.

- 1938 Alexis Preller joined the New Group, included on its first art exhibition.

- 1939 Set out on a safari into the Congo; impressed by tribal ritual and sculptures; stirred by witnessing erupting volcanoes; outbreak of war brought him back to Pretoria.

- 1940 to 1943 Alexis Preller joined the Field Ambulance Corps, POW in North Africa and Italy until 1943; returned to South Africa and exhibited in Johannesburg; recollections of war experiences influenced his paintings; development of 'urn-heads' and surrealistic imagery; beginning of Blue Period.

- 1944 Builds 'Ygdrasil' , his studio designed by Norman Eaton.

- 1946 Again in Europe; study in Museums concentrating on Greek sculpture; phase of extensive self-exploration and imaginative translation of themes for Alexis Preller.

- 1948 Appearance of book, 'Alexis Preller' by Christi Truter, with autobiographical introduction.

- 1948 to 1949 Visits to Zanzibar and Seychelles Islands followed by many paintings; urgency of earlier expression followed by greater serenity; palette mellows toward Brown Period; development of previous themes relating to 'Ndebele Culture'; member of International Art Club, South Africa.

- 1953 Alexis Preller received Molteno Award; mural commissioned for Johannesburg offices of Receiver of Revenue; trip to Italy, where he studied frescoes in Florence and Arezzo; much impressed and influenced by Piero della Francesca; on return-trip visited Egypt, hieratic expression of that ancient culture had lasting impact on his work.

- 1954 Moved to a farm near Hartebeespoort Dam.

- 1955 Alexis Preller awarded Medal of Honour of South African Akademie.

- 1955 to 1958 Period of hieratic figure compositions; development of individual formal idioms and mythological symbolism.

- 1958 Last one-man exhibition Johannesburg; won national Univleis Competition.

- 1962 Several avenues explored: abstract symbolism, informalism and culmination of Quattrocento-style conceptions.

- 1965 Beginning of Gold Period; controversy regarding both new abstract and continued figurative expression, but great demand for all his paintings.

- 1968 Trip to Greece and Italy; began his autobiography.

- 1969 Alexis Preller experiments with 'intaglio' painting using moulded fibre-glass.

- 1971 Travels in Greece and Italy.

- 1972 Prestige Retrospective Exhibition, Pretoria Art Museum, prompted renewed exploration of several earlier themes.

- 1973 Began building 'Mudif' , a guest house in Middle Eastern Marsh-Arab tradition; filming of documentary production co-directed by Esme Berman and Edgar Bold interrupted by Preller's ill health - completed 1974.

- 1975 Last Exhibition, Johannesburg; died of heart attack.

 Art Exhibitions

- 1935 Alexis Preller's first one-man art exhibition, Pretoria.

- 1936 Empire Art Exhibition, Johannesburg.

- 1938 New Group Exhibition, Cape Town and subsequent exhibitions.

- 1948 Overseas exhibition of South African Art, Tate Gallery.

- 1952 Van Riebeeck Tercent Exhibition, Cape Town.

- 1954 Venice Biennale.

- 1956 Venice Biennale.

- 1966 Republic Fest Exhibition, Pretoria.

- 1972 Prestige Retrospective Exhibition, Pretoria Art Museum.

- 1973 Sao Paulo Biennale.

Public Art Collections

 South African National Art Gallery, Cape Town; Johannesburg  Art Gallery; Pretoria Art Museum; Durban Art Gallery; William Humphreys Art Gallery, Kimberley; King George VI Art Gallery, Port Elizabeth; Ann Bryant Art Gallery, East London; Hester Rupert Museum; Africana Museum, Johannesburg; Rembrandt Art Foundation; University of Wits Art Gallery; UNISA; Sandton Municipal Collection.