This work is an important representative of a highly significant, but little studied and documented chapter in African art history.

Edward Paterson, a South African of Scottish descent, studied art in London after the First World War, then returned to South Africa, became an Anglican priest, and in due course was appointed to found a school at the Cyrene Mission outside Bulawayo. He felt that an education emphasising art would ameliorate problems consequent upon colonisation, and in due course pupils of varying ages, including young adults, produced work primarily in watercolours imaging landscapes, the local flora and fauna, Christian scenes and scenes of village life, such as this one. The mission was visited by Queen Mary, who personally purchased work, and it generated exhibitions that Paterson took to London in 1949 to 1954. He was also keenly interested in debates about southern African rock art and which peoples produced it; and sent albums of his pupils’ work to various museums; he was concerned to prove that local native people were capable of producing realistic pictorial imagery, something denied by many racist archaeologists of the time, who insisted that only immigrants from the Middle East could have created the sophisticated imagery of the ancient rock art. Cyrene was thus a nexus of cross-cultural art education, Commonwealth diplomacy, and scientific politics. This acquisition was presented by the Art Fund and the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation


Michael Graham-Stewart.

Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology

Downing Street, Cambridge, Cambridgeshire, CB2 3DZ
01223 333516

Opening times

Tue – Sat, 10.30am – 4.30pm Sun, 12noon – 4.30pm

Closed for approximately one week at Christmas and the New Year (please check website for dates) and on on Good Friday and Easter Sunday

Back to top