The New Group

This was a group or collective of young South African artists who, upon their return from study in Europe in 1937 began to question and oppose the conservative values propounded by the South African Society of Artists. At the time of its formation its members were concerned primarily with the improvement of their working circumstances. They hoped to unite South African artists in order to raise standards, to help artists in financial difficulties, to form artist's co-operatives in order to import materials at cost, and to hold exhibitions throughout the country.

Among its founding members were Gregoire Boonzaaier who was also elected as its first chairman, Lippy Lipshitz, Frieda Lock, Cecil Higgs and Terence McCaw. A decision was taken to invite the participation of some Transvaal artists, and this area became the responsibility of Walter Battiss. Membership was attained by invitation only, and 17 artists were represented at the group's first exhibition, which was held on 4 May 1938 in Cape Town. Works valued at R400.00 were sold and one thousand visitors attended both the exhibition and its lunch-hour lectures. Most of the press criticism was aimed at the works of Alexis Preller, who was condemned as a 'modernist'. The group grew rapidly and eventually became the most influential artists' group of its time in South Africa. Two exhibitions were subsequently held in Pretoria and Johannesburg.

Selection of works for exhibition was made by the Group by means of a secret ballot and for the next fifteen years it was to mount nation-wide exhibitions. In this way they exposed the public to art quite different from what they had been exhibiting up to that point. The group also initiated the concept of 'art by barter', where artists were able to exchange their work for goods. Lippy Lipshitz, for example, required piano lessons for his daughter, and Neville Lewis was prepared to exchange a 70-guinea picture for ten cases of whiskey.

Because the Group displayed some of the country's most progressive art of that time, there was always an element of sensation linked to their shows, like the forced removal of a painting by Cecil Higgs from an exhibition held at the Library at the University of Stellenbosch. In time the Group's prominence and importance in local art affairs increased, and in 1947 it was selected by the Government as representatives of the best in South Arfican painting and sculpture. Works by its members were chosen by the Department of State Information to be exhibited outside the country.

By the end of the Second World War the New Group, like many other collaborations of its kind, was becoming institutionalised. Its last exhibition was held in Cape Town in 1953, after which it disbanded.