Cecil Higgs

Cecil Higgs, who was born in Thaba “Nchu" in the Orange Free State, spent over a decade in the Studios of London and Paris, tutored by the artists, Walter Sickert and Andre Lhote. However, she professed a greater debt to the paintings of Rembrandt and the modern masters, Matisse, Picasso, Bracque and Vuillard, which she saw in the museums and private galleries of these cities during the 1920’s.

On her return she settled in Cape Town and later in the small coastal town of Vermont. The subject of people, often gently satirised, dominates her early paintings, their faces generalised and their posture stylised, giving precedence to their visual qualities over their identities.

In terms of sheer painterly quality, Cecil Higgs was regarded as one of the most significant South African women artists of her generation. It was not the content of her work, mainly human in the early period, nor the conventions she adopted, but the way in which she handled paint that brought her to attention in the heyday of the New Group exhibitions.

The most distinctive of feature of Cecil Higgs’ painting style was the inseparability of form and colour. One does not exist without the other. She passed away in 1986 in Cape Town.

Artist CV

A painter of marine life, seascapes, landscape, still life and from 1935 figures, particularly nudes. From 1946 the theme of the sea ran through her paintings. Painted many pictures of cats. Worked in oil, watercoulour and from 1948 in mixed media. Numerous drawings in ink, crayon and pencil, charcoal and chalk. A number of monotypes from 1958.


1919 Grahamstown School of Art; 1920-33 Byam Shaw Art School and Goldsmith's College of Art, London, the Royal Academy Schools under Walter Sickert (1860-1942), the Walter Sickert School, Camden Town, various Paris Studios including l'Academie de la Grande Chaumiere and under Andre Lhote (1885-1962).


1971-74 unable to paint in oil due to shoulder injury, she worked in Mixed Media. 1939 a member of the New Group; 1948 a member of the International Arts Club in SA. Illustrated Stellenbosch Days by Nora Henshilwood, 1951, AA Balkema, Cape Town and Kelp Coast, 1976, David Philip, Cape Town, Leonardo The Florentine by Leon Rousseau, 1962, Oxford University Press, Cape Town,// Higgs, Cecil //

 Magdalene Retief by Uys Krige, 1940, Unie Volkspelers, Cape Town, 2nd revised edition, and Nerina Van Drakenstein by AC Bouman, 1937 HAUM, Cape Town. 1900-20 lived in the Orange Free State, 1920-33 in London and Paris; 1933-35 in the Orange Free State; 1935-46 in Stellenbosch; 1946 in Green Point, Cape Town; 1947-62 in Sea Point, Cape Town; 1962-63 in Mouille Point, Cape Town; from 1964 at Onrust, Cape Province. 1939 visited Paris and London; in 1952 the Wild Coast and in 1965 England, France, The Netherlands and Italy.


Participated in Group Exhibitions from 1920 in England with the London Group and the New English Art Club and in SA from 1929, she also exhibited in Yugoslavia, Italy, Zimbabwe and Brazil; 1936 University of Stellenbosch, first of numerous exhibtions held in SA; 1938 Stellenbosch, joint exhibition with Rene Graetz, Maggie Laubser and Lippy Lipshitz; 1940 first of several joint exhibitions with Lippy Lipshitz and John Dronsfeld; 1948 Tate Gallery, London, SA Art Exhibition; 1953 National Museum, Bloemfontein; 1956 and 1960 Quadrennial Exhibitions; 1968 Tatham Art Gallery, Pietermaritzburg, Durban Art Gallery, SA National Gallery, Cape Town, joint exhibition with Lippy Lipshitz and John Dronsfeld; 1975 SA National Gallery, Cape Town, William Humphreys Art Gallery, Kimberley, Pretoria Art Museum, Durban Art Gallery, Prestige Retrospective Exhibition; 1978 SAAA Gallery, Cape Town, Retrospective Exhibition; 1980 Wolpe Gallery, Cape Town, 80th Anniversary Exhibition.


1963 Medal of Honour for painting, SA Akademie vir Wetenskap en Kuns.


 Durban Art Gallery; Hester Rupert Art Museum, Graaff-Reinet; Johannesburg Art Gallery; King George VI Art Gallery, Port Elizabeth; National Museum, Bloemfontein; Pretoria Art Museum, Rand Afrikaans University; Sandton Municipal Collection; SA Akademie vir Wetenskap en Kuns; SA National Gallery, Cape Town; Tatham Art Gallery, Pietermaritzburg; University of the Orange Free State; University of Pretoria; University of South Africa; University of Stellenbosch; University of the Witwatersrand; William Humphreys Art Gallery, Kimberley.