Lucy Mullins, by her marriage to Brian Wiles, became a member of the well-known Wiles family who have been artists for several generations and long domiciled in the Knysna region of the Eastern Cape. The style and range of subjects taken up by the artists of this family as a whole has always been conventional, ranging for landscape to portraiture, which they practised to great public acclaim. It was largely through the success of the father of Brian Wiles, Walter Gilbert Wiles, that the Wilderness and Knysna coastlines became known as ‘Wiles country’.
The earlier works of Lucy Wiles are signed with the name Lucy Mullins, and pre-date her marriage. Xhosa woman in the Campbell Smith Collection (plate 56) is from this phase of her career, but is not specifically datable. It shows a young Xhosa woman wearing a traditional ochred blanket-wrap and a beaded headband. Her head is covered in a conventional colonial-style ‘doek’ that is not of traditional Xhosa design, colour or origin.
Mullins continued to work within a genre that became well-established in South African art during the colonial period. This was the “native study”. The genre emerged during the 1920s and 30s largely as a result of efforts by the likes of Leo François (1870–1938), President of the Natal Society of Artists. He and others who were keen at the time to establish a “South African national school” tried to generate an interest in figure studies as an antidote to the dominance of local landscapes at annual exhibitions. An incentive for this appeared when Karl Gundelfinger, a Durban patron, established the Gundelfinger Prize for the best painting of “native life”. The prize was worth 20 guineas. With the growth of its popularity with patrons, the genre was also taken up by such notable black artists as Gerard Bhengu (qv.) and George Pemba (qv.).
Born Johannesburg, 1918; died 2008. Training Originally trained as a nurse. Studied under Nils Andersen and Walter Gilbert Wiles. Part-time studies at the Johannesburg School of Art. Natal Technical College under Professor Cecil Todd. Selected Exhibitions 1959: Wiles Group Exhibition, Pieter Wenning Gallery, Johannesburg. 1961: Solo exhibition, Pieter Wenning Gallery, Johannesburg. Numerous solo shows at The Gallery, Leisure Isle, Knysna. Collections Queenstown Art Gallery, Eastern Cape; William Humphreys Art Gallery, Kimberley.
Painting by Brian Wiles