Sunday Times of London article on “Fake” South African Painter (Helen Anne Petrie) full of inaccuracies, unsubstantiated accusations and innuendo

FOLLOWING a recent article published by the Sunday Times of London which was defamatory, full of inaccuracies, unsubstantiated accusations and innuendo about a former South African who has sold paintings by an apparently “fake” South African artist to well-known British collections, International Collectors and via Auction Houses, evidence has reached the Paarl Post that the female artist, poet and Anti Apartheid Activist,  Helen Anne Petrie (1932 – 2006), had indeed mainly lived and worked in Fish Hoek, South Africa.

The UK PCC is investigating the concerns of the article, Case No 093340, Strutt is being represented by Attorney Penelope E Meyer.

Mr. Glenn Strutt,  a respected  art dealer in the USA and Europe (Who does NOT have a criminal Record , neither a record of “shady business”, as incorrectly reported), has provided irrevocable documentary proof that neither Bonhams nor the Royal Collection were duped, as was feared, when they purchased paintings from him in Britain.

Among the many documents provided were the catalogues of an exhibition of the SA Association of Arts’ annual exhibition in Cape Town in November 1967.Two paintings by the artist, then 35 years old, are listed. In the same year she also exhibited at the Fish Hoek Arts Festival.

Reports in the newspaper, Fish Hoek Echo, refer to paintings exhibited by the artist as a member of St Margaret’s Art Society in 1966.

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.

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 Gratermans 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  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 did however exhibit in South Africa twice in 1967, the most important exhibition being from 30th October till 11th November at the South African Association of Artists Annual Exhibition at 63 Burg Street, Cape Town. A leading Art Critic of the day, Johan van Rooyen stated her 3 works entitled respectively Indian Girl, Bantu Boy and Late Afternoon, Kommetjie “should be hailed as proving the standard that is expected at an exhibition of this calibre”, which included works by fellow artists I.Roworth, S.Butler, V.Volschenk and L. Mears.

In 1967 Mr. Albert Wert (Then Curator of the Pretoria Art Museum) together with Matthys Bokhorst (Director of the South African National Gallery) enquired as to whether Anne would be willing to participate in the SANLAM Art Collection Exhibition, which at that point contained in excess of 166 works of art. She declined to participate as the collection “did not possess that degree of inner unity it would have had if the collection had from the beginning been built up for the purpose of exhibition”. She further suspected that the main intention of the SANLAM Collection was to build up a mere collection of attractive South African paintings and sketches to be left hanging in the offices of directors and staff alike.

The public would only have access to subsequent prints to feature on SANLAM’S calendars. Further diary entries indicate that she also declined an offer from Rembrandt Van Rijn Art Foundation to purchase her works privately.

Already at this stage, her strong opinions, insecurities, inability to interact with strangers, deep-rooted distrust of people in general and her ever more frequent bipolar phases were quite obvious.

In 1971 Anne once again, declined an invitation this time from Gunther van der Reis to participate in the “1971 Republic Festival Exhibition” which was organised by the S.A.Association of Arts. She decided to exhibit in Tel-Aviv that year instead. Anne’s works were exhibited in the late 60’s early 70’s at various galleries in SA, where she obtained critical acclaim (often relenting and allowing a portrait or landscape to be exhibited without a credit being published on the Programme).

Yet shy, introvert, emotionally imbalanced and disillusioned at the politics which clearly favoured predominantly male, Afrikaans artists as opposed to English-speaking females like herself, she stopped exhibiting at most major galleries and vehemently declined many invitations to sell her Art after that.

Anne noted in her personal diary in 1972 that 2 major schools of thought were apparent in the South African art world. One where artists identified with various aspects of their social, political, geographical and environmental conditions; the other with very close ties with international trends, often be related to Colonialism and the Empire. This duality appeared to be the natural result of a “Nation” shaping and divorcing itself from its’ old rural and colonial character.

Anne felt that Nations and Art alike were becoming more and more involved, interactive and demanded greater effort from the viewer.

During the 1970’s 80’s and 1990’s Anne never tried to idealise her subjects. She always strove for the accurate representation of everyday, apparently casual or overlooked subjects.

Her devotion to her art, especially during her latter years was so great that she also infected her fellow artists, resulting in anti-art people being able to view art with greater respect and admiration.

In the Transvaal and in the Western Cape she discovered the destruction caused by the introduction of the Group Areas Act that stimulated her imagination. In Europe; mainly Italy and Scotland she sought the dream-world for which she deeply yearned.

Finally, there was her own private inner world, to which very few were ever admitted, but, from which derived all her wonderful creative and inspired powers.

Anne felt most at home in the Cape. Not only because she found relief there for her bodily ills, but in the autumns and winters there, had she re-discovered her homeland and thus her identity? At the end of her life, Anne had amongst her closest friends and fellow artists, mainly local Cape Coloured and Malay inhabitants. These were the people with whom Anne felt she could really be herself: a plain, genuine woman who seldom made preparatory cause of her impulsive nature.

In her final years, Anne was mentally and emotionally split in many worlds. Her bipolar condition, combined with the trauma of emotional, physical and sexual abuse by her brother, the loss of her parents from which she never fully recovered, meant Anne would have been better off in an institution.

She did however not allow anyone taking her away from her beloved Fish-Hoek “Summer House” and ended her days alone, with grey, messed up, wiry hair, wandering and talking to herself, shifting between worlds only she knew, known to the locals as “The Fish-Hoek Old Witch”.

Anne Petrie, the woman, the benefactor, the pacifist, the friend… The TRUE Matriarch of South African Female Artists.