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Nine framed pencil and watercolour sketches depicting various African tribes by J. White, Esq., together with a book containing 41 tinted lithograph plates, after these and other sketches by J. White, and 21 pages with descriptions of the various tribes of South Africa

The book cover with title: The Caffre Tribes and inside titled: Sketches of some of the various classes and tribes inhabiting the colony of the Cape of Good Hope and the interior of South Africa with a brief account descriptive of the manners and customs of each, London, W. Robt. and Lowes Dickinson, 114, New Bond Street, 1851.

 

Provenance:
John and Gertrude E. Leveson-Gower, who were in South Africa in 1847

The sketches all signed in pencil with initials J.W., and most with descriptions in pencil, c. 1845.


Fifty-nine watercolours by this artist are in the collection of the Africana Museum, Johannesburg (R.F.Kennedy Catalogue of Pictures in the Africana Museum, Johannesburg, 1968, volume 2, pp. 103-117). For the lithographs see R.F. Kennedy, Catalogue of Prints in the Africana Museum, Volume 2, W3-W43, Johannesburg, 1976.

The mystery surrounding the identity of the artist J.W. was solved by Alfred Gordon- Brown. In his book Pictorial Africana, Gordon-Brown (1975) details the different paths of inquiry over the years, as well as the dead ends and finally, an unexpected discovery. The publishers of Sketches of Some of the Various Classes and Tribes inhabiting the Colony of the Cape of Good Hope claim that the lithographs they reproduced in their book were based on watercolours by a gentleman resident in the Cape for many years. The editor called the book a “curious literary fabrication” and that the artist was “a colonial amateur now in Government Service who was formerly accustomed to send his sketches to booksellers for sale.” According to the Cape Town Mail of 4 October 1851 the artist was “not a little astonished at the use which some unscrupulous purchaser has made of his production” (Africana Notes & News, Vol. 20 No. 1, p. 17-19, Johannesburg: Africana Museum, 1972).

The riddle was solved when Gordon-Brown was shown a folder of 24 watercolours. The watercolours were signed with the familiar J.W. and came up for sale at auction in Gloucester in 1972 in the original wrapping titled “A collection of characteristic 24 sketches by J. White, Esq., Cape of Good Hope.”