The Campbell Smith Collection

The Bruce Campbell Smith collection contains an array of South African art from the 1920s to the present day, which focuses particularly on the works of the emerging modern black artists of the mid to late 20th Century. As one of the biggest private art collections in the country, Campbell Smith’s holdings provide this country’s most comprehensive, coherent and valuable database of artists that suffered from systematic neglect during the apartheid era. This website makes this collection available to teachers and pupils and the wider public as an archival resource, and promises to become one of the most valuable tools for the democratisation and re-evaluation of the South African art canon. The digital reproductions of the works on this database are of an exceptionally fine quality and will not only enable students and teachers of South African art history to view high resolution images, but also to obtain information about their historical context as well as biographic information on the artists who produced them.

It is by now well known that the development of a canon of the ‘best’ South African art during the 20th Century was severely curtailed and delimited by the prevalent discourses of that time. In the colonial era, South African museums and collectors focused largely on European art, scarcely considering South African artists worthy of consideration. As South Africa emerged as an independent nation state in the early 20th Century, political power was vested exclusively in whites – a state of affairs that inevitably determined what would come to be regarded as the nation’s best artists.