Emily Fern

Born: 1881, Ballarat, Australia  Died: 1953 Johannesburg, South Africa Emily Fern was born in Australia of Manx parents, who came to South Africa in 1889. Her life and work show a single minded attempt to follow the most advanced European art. She became a permanent and rather anxious student, always in search of new and better teachers. She had her first lesson in oil painting from a nun, while a pupil at a convent in Johannesburg. Later she took lessons in pastel from G.S. Smithard and in 1913, became one of the first students to enroll at the newly opened Johannesburg School of Art. She undertook further tuition from J.H. Amshewitz and went on to study in London and Paris.

Fern played an active role in local art life and was a member of every Johannesburg art society during her life. She taught art privately and at the Witwatersrand Technical Art School from 1926 – 1928 and exhibited on group shows for 50 years from 1901. She died in 1953 in Johannesburg.

Artist CV

Art Education

- 1901 Port Elizabeth, Tech Art School.

- 1904 Emily Fern studied art under GS Smithard in Johannesburg;

- 1913 Emily Fern studied at Johannesburg School of Art;

- 1920 – 1922 Slade School, London, under Henry Tonks and Wilson Steer; also etching under Frank Emanuel (Royal Drawing Art Teacher’s Certificate).

- 1933 – 1949 Emily Fern studied art under André Lhote, Paris.

Short Artist Biography

- 1889 Emily Fern brought to South Africa; parents were Rand Pioneers, father a mine-manager on Johannesburg mines.

- 1892 Emily Fern was taught oil-painting by a nun at End Street Convent.

- 1899 – 1904 Lived in Port Elizabeth during Anglo-Boer War; won medals at Art School.

- 1904 Emily Fern returned to Johannesburg and took lessons in pastel-drawing under GS Smithard.

- 1913 One of the first students at the first Johannesburg School of Art and first.

- Hon Secretary of Johannesburg School of Art Club.

- 1916 Foundation member of Johannesburg Sketch Club; Emily Fern studied further under JHG Amshewitz. During this period she conducted the Protea Studio in Market Street, Johannesburg, in partnership with Mrs EE Alport – they made and sold craft-work, including items in leather, pewter and brass-repoussé; also offered drawing and painting lessons.

- 1920 – 1922 Studied art at the Slade, London.

- 1922 Emily Fern returned to Johannesburg; joined the Friday Club which had replaced the defunct Sketch Club. Together with Mary Packer undertook sketching trips to Natal and the Cape.

- 1926 – 1930 Emily Fern taught at the Wits Tech College Art School, Johannesburg.

- 1933 Studied in Paris; exhibited on Salons de Paris et des Tuileries, returned to Johannesburg as a painter and teacher; member of all Johannesburg art societies and frequent exhibitor on shows of South African provincial art societies.

- 1949 Second trip to Paris.

Art Exhibitions

- Emily Fern participated on group art exhibitions all over South Africa from 1901.

- 1925 First one-man exhibition, Johannesburg.

- 1920 – 1950 Represented on practically every annual South African Academy.

- 1936 Empire Exhibition, Johannesburg.

- 1952 Van Riebeeck Tercent Exhibition, Cape Town.

- 1965 Memorial Exhibition, Johannesburg.

Public Art collections

South African National Art Gallery, Cape Town; Ann Bryant Art Gallery, East London; Africana Museum, Johannesburg.


 Emily Fern Emily Fern Emily Fern 1