The Gallery has a colourful history spanning more than 100 years. Significant events include the Whitwell donation, the infamous dispersal during the 1960s and the restoration of and move to the Old Supreme Court building.

About the Tatham Art Gallery

The front steps of the Tatham Art Gallery

The Gallery owes its origins to Mrs Ada Susan Tatham who collected donations early in 1903 and purchased works in Britain later that same year. After an initial exhibition the collection was first housed in the Pietermaritzburg City Hall. In 1923 the collection was greatly enhanced through the donations of Lieutenant Colonel R.H. Whitwell.

The Tatham Art Gallery forms part of the Msunduzi Municipality and is governed by a Board of Trustees.

Beginnings of the Tatham Art Gallery

The beginnings of the Tatham Art Gallery, one of seven major art museums in South Africa, date back to the turn of the century when interested citizens of Pietermaritzburg presented the City Council with paintings. In 1903 a discussion relating to the formation of an art gallery was recorded in City Council minutes.

A leading figure in these early negotiations was Mrs Ada Tatham, wife of the then Judge President of Natal, and after whom the Gallery is named. Mrs Tatham collected money from friends interested in the formation of an art gallery and from the City Council and traveled overseas to acquire art works.

In England she contacted her husband's cousin, the President of the Royal Academy, and met other Royal Academicians. With their help and their interest in the founding of an art gallery in an English colony, Mrs Tatham managed to acquire paintings of a value in excess of what she had to spend.

In addition she arranged for the loan of a large collection of paintings to be shipped out to the colony, and Pietermaritzburg citizens were encouraged to select and donate a work from this exhibition.

Whitwell's Donation to the Tatham Art Gallery

Between 1923 and 1926 Lieutenant-Colonel Robert Whitwell donated over 400 items and these were displayed on the second floor of the City Hall. The work included post-Victorian British painting, examples of the Barbizon School, Lalique glass and oriental carpets. Of note are paintings by Wilson Steer, Boudin, Sickert and a particularly fine Sisley.

The Permanent Home of the Tatham Art Gallery

The collection was for many years housed on the second floor of the City Hall, with works spread throughout the building's passages and stairwells.

Numerous plans to accommodate the City's art collection have been considered over the years and have come to naught. In 1939, General the Right Hon JC Smuts laid a foundation stone for the Centenary Memorial Art Gallery, an institution which did not materialize.

In 1990 the Tatham Art Gallery moved from the City Hall into its current premises, consisting of the old Supreme Court Building, completed in 1875, and the adjacent Old Presbyterian Church dating from 1852.

The 1960s and the Tatham Art Gallery

The first curator was appointed in 1961 and in 1962 - following an appraisal of the collection by a select committee and the unfortunate sale of works in the Tatham Collection and most of the South African work - the gallery was officially renamed the Tatham Art Gallery. A fund for the purchase of art was instituted and the City Council accepted responsibility for the running and maintenance of the art gallery and its collection.

In 1968 there was a decision to re-establish a section devoted to South African painting. Initially this included work related to the existing British and French collections, but it led to a new direction in collecting policy. While gaps in the existing collections were filled, the move was away from the colonial towards a collection of South African art in all its forms, including traditional and contemporary Black art, to reflect cross-cultural influences and serve the community as a whole.

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