Violet Ferguson-Louw was a South African painter who travelled extensively all around South Africa and South West Africa (present-day Namibia). She was most noted for her landscapes and still lifes. She was a versatile painter who used charcoal, oil, water-colour and embroidery to capture diverse natural scenes on canvas.

Personal Life

Violet Volga Louw was born in 1892 and grew up on the Louw family farm Nuwejaarskraal near Prieska. She studied art at the Hugenot Seminary at Wellington, where she enrolled as a student in 1909. The family later moved to the farm Ankerpaal near Prieska. After she got married to a Scot, Archibold William Ferguson, she painted under the name Violet Ferguson-Louw. She had a son and two daughters. Although later divorced, she kept her husband’s name. She was known to be somewhat eccentric to outsiders. She spent her last days in an old age home in Britstown and died in 1973. She was buried on Nuwejaarskraal. The inscription on her tombstone reads: "Nature I loved, next to nature art."

Travels and inspiration

She travelled extensively throughout South Africa and present-day Namibia with her canvasses and paint brushes, staying with friends and family. Many anecdotes survived in family lore, sketching an artistic, somewhat obstinate and outspoken figure that felt constrained by the demands of children and by financial and social realities. She loved nature and insisted on walking the long distances on the vast farms in Namibia to wherever she wanted to paint. She preferred to work alone, and often went off into the veldt on her own, taking the day’s rations with her. She was seldom without a flask of coffee. During one of these outings on a farm in northern Namibia her guests became worried when she did not return at sunset. Eventually a search party found her in the early hours of the morning, cold and exhausted up in a tree, where she had taken refuge from a pride of lions. She always insisted that she would find her way back to the homestead. She was once picked up by a neighbouring farmer literally crawling, dehydrated and confused, miles away in the wrong direction in the sand dune areas on the farm Kaukerus, yet she still maintained that she knew her way. She used to go to bed when it was still daylight, and got up around 4 am, to the dismay of everyone else. Her art is mostly impressionistic. A great deal of her work was commissioned; however, she insisted that the objects of her paintings should always have artistic merit and not just sentimental value. "I only paint what I see," she used to say. She painted in the time of great South African artists like Hugo Naudé, but there is no way of telling how much she was inspired or influenced by the masters of the time. She painted nature in a way that portrays the harshness of the dry landscapes. This is especially noticeable in the way she painted trees... a near chaos of bark and tree stumps and dead wood amid the splendid greens, be it Camel Thorn, Mopani or Wild Grape (succulent) with its thick leafless stems. Few other painters could so correctly and vividly express the yellows of the grasses of Namibia as she did.

Scope of work

Auctioneers tend to be reluctant to appraise her work, primarily because she never held exhibitions and sold her work to a loyal following of family members and friends. They got to know her work well and even commissioned some paintings. Most of her works of art seems to be in the possession of relatives and their offspring. As time passed some of them passed it on to distant relatives and friends. In this way her art spread in the absence of formal exhibitions. Some of her paintings are in private possession in London, Basel and even in America, thereby telling the story of the modern day migration of South Africans. Many paintings were made of Karoo landscapes and the Orange River near Prieska and Hopetown in the Northern Cape area, since her immediate family farmed at Nuwejaarskraal near Prieska.. Some nephews and nieces (the children of her brother Leonard Lionel Louw) settled and farmed in Namibia. This resulted in a variety of landscape studies painted at the time of her extended visits to them, namely in the Kalahari area between Rehoboth and Stampriet, also the area to the south of the Etosha Pan (Outjo district) and especially the Torra Mountains in the Damaraland area to the west of Kamanjab. The Western Cape also served as an inspiration (sea and vineyards), since she initially studied there, and at least one of her children later lived there. Today her only surviving child, Micha, resides in an old age home in the Karoo town of Richmond.


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