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About Helen Anne
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Born to a privileged Kensington, Johannesburg family of Scottish descent, (Helen) Anne Petrie and her elder brother appeared set to growing up into a very promising life ahead.
Apart from their main home in Johannesburg, her parents kept their rather comfortable “Summer House” in Fish Hook (The “Hamptons” equivalent in USA) and were socialites of the day (the family had made fortune out of gold and diamonds mining), regular guests at Admiralty House when in the Cape or attending luncheons with Count Labia. Simon’s town, the neighbouring village was the Naval Headquarters for the British Navy and at that time South Africa was a jewel colony of The British Empire.
In 1938 a relative, who noted the great potential Anne had shown already at a tender age of 5, cut out an article from the Huisgenoot, a local magazine, dated 18 August, entitled” Hoekom ek skilder” (”Why I Paint”) by the then renowned artist Maggie Loubser, on a particularly hot summer’s day while on holiday from Boarding School. This article was translated from Afrikaans into English for Anne by her multilingual nanny. A diary entry records Anne was truly mesmerized at the contents, and thus her eventual admiration for Maggie and passion to paint was unknowingly set.
Anne had a privileged education and completed High School with excellent results, merits and awards; and went on to study further.
During this tertiary period, Anne made 2 trips to Europe touring the leading galleries. She was so eager to learn about Art, that at the end of her visits she had taken down some 2,300 pages of handwritten notes. Florence was her favourite city, then Rome, she noted. Returning to South Africa she began painting her first oils, and with tuition soon began to lay the foundation of what was to mature into her own, distinctive.
Anne felt that at the time, the taste of small art-public was extremely backward and that there were too few discerning collectors and buyers, particularly in South Africa which was at that point still a British colony.
In 1954 she spent a short period of time sitting in on lectures at the Kunstakedemie van Mechelen, Sint Niklaas and Antwerp, where she met artist Jan Vermeiren who assisted her in mastering her least favourite mediums: acrylic and pastels.
During her many foreign (mainly European) travels, especially during the early years of her life after finishing school; many important people of the day sat for portraits for which she was well paid. She largely used those funds for further visits to galleries and the odd art-class at the Byam Shaw Goldsmith’s School of Art in London and under Sickert’s (Royal Academy School) own school in Camden Town. Here she struck up a friendship with Cecil Higgs.
At the same time Anne met Mary (May) Ellen Hillhouse, who like Anne had Scottish heritage (and acquaintance to her parents). Together they consulted on what they both declared was “soul-destroying commercial work” also resulting in Anne becoming (like May) an illustrator for various local and foreign companies, excelling in her graphic design for pottery, pattern design for Garlicks and Greatermans and Butterick Dress patterns, to name just a few of the then very popular high-street brands.
At the same time she made (thanks to her father’s intervention) occasional visits to the “Platteland” farm of Maggie Loubser’s father in t Klipheuwel, near Malmesbury. Anne spent many hours brooding over the vision Maggie had acquired during her trip to London, so just like Maggie, Anne spent time in Germany where she experienced the works of Marc and Nolde. The bud of interest, observing and consulting had slowly germinated and soon blossomed, quite spectacularly.
In 1955 upon meeting Marjorie Wallace and husband Jan Rabie, they ended up in a heated debate on politics and thus was cemented her lifelong interest in Humanitarian causes in South Africa. Anne could be very opinionated and outspoken.
In 1960 Anne was infuriated by the countrywide protests, demonstrations and strikes against the so-called Pass Laws and Police brutality in response to the anti-Pass Laws campaign (Apartheid period) that she wished to return to Scotland, her ancestral home indefinitely. This phase eventually passed.
Anne Bryant Gallery, East London (1958)
Lidchi Gallery, Durban (1962)
Martin Melck Gallery, Cape Town (1963)
Belgium, Paris and Scotland (1965)
Gallery 21, Johannesburg, (1966)
Belgium and Paris(1969)
London and Paris (1976)
Frenchmen, West Germany (1978)
New York (1994)
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