Esmonde-White, Eleanor Frances

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Esmonde-White, Eleanor Frances

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Eleanor Esmonde-White was born in Dundee in 1914, and died on 2 January 2007. She began her art studies at the University of Natal in 1932, and continued at the Royal College of Art in London from 1935 until 1936. In 1935, while in London, she was commissioned together with Le Roux Smith Le Roux to cover the walls of the new South African Embassy in Trafalgar Square with murals. On completion of this commission, a Herbert Baker Scholarship allowed her to study mural painting in London. Esmonde-White returned to South Africa in 1938; in 1949 she took up a lecturing position in design at the Michaelis School of Fine Art, where she taught for 12 years. She had her first solo exhibition in Cape Town in 1952, after which she had several exhibitions around South Africa and internationally. That same year she was honoured with the Cape Tercentenary Foundation Award for Design. Esmonde-White focussed on women as her primary subject matter, and enjoyed painting scenes of women engaged in daily tasks. Among her other notable commissions, mention can be made of a mosaic for the Cape Province Library in 1952 and a tapestry for the Baxter Theatr in 1977. Writing in The South African Art Times, David Zetler states: “First and foremost Eleanor was a brilliant graphic artist – a great draughtsman. Everything she did was structurally sound and this translated into her oils and her woodcuts in particular, which are exceptionally sought after. Mostly her subject matter was women. She enjoyed the theatre and liked painting ballet dancers. In a quiet way she was a feminist and ahead of her time but never strident or aggressive in her beliefs. She was a gentle, sympathetic and well-like person. Her colours were secondary, low key and she used very few but they were brilliantly mixed” (


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