WHILE THIS EXHIBITION AND CATALOGUE purport to mark the centenary of the founding of the South African Society of Artists (SASA) in 1902, it is actually the Society's reincarnation that we celebrate in 2002. The correct date of its inception is now known to have been over five years earlier, in May 1897. Clarification of this confusion is needed. Esme Berman's first edition of Art and Artists of South Africa (1969) gave 1902 as SASA's founding date on the basis of an item in The Cape Times dated 26 September 1902.'This date was generally accepted as correct until Dr Thelma Gutsche of Johannesburg later drew Berman's attention to an announcement dated 10 September 1897 in an old Pretoria newspaper called The Press. This noted that the "recently inaugurated SA Society of Artists is making good progress", and it went on to list some of its members.
Berman acknowledged Gutsche's discovery in her revised second edition of Art and Artists of South Africa (1983:380), and gave September 1897 as SASA's amended founding date. It is certain that at some stage the early Society either formally dissolved or fell apart. In the course of research for this present exhibition, however, new information came to light on the "first" SASA in the indeterminate period between 1897 and 1902. This material adds substantially to what we know. It is now realised that The Press article of 10 September 1897 in Pretoria was taken up from another source, published two days earlier in Cape Town in The Cape Times Weekly of 8 September. A further discovery is another report that confirms that, as of September 1897, the newly- formed SASA was then just over five months old. This is a piece from The Cape Times dated 10 May 1897 reporting on a "general meeting of artists ... on Saturday last" at Kamp's Cafe, the identical venue that was used later in 1902. 5 Since 10 May 1897 was a Monday, the founding date of SASA can therefore be finally be pinpointed to Saturday 8 May 1897.
A rationale of the motives for the Society's establishment is given in the article of 10 May 1897. It effectively summarises the introductory speech given by R. H. Whale (qv.).* The primary argument for the establishment of the Society was "a considerable growth in the interest displayed by the general public in art", not only in South Africa itself, but in Europe, "where the work done by eminent artists who had visited the country from time to time had attracted considerable attention." Another source of impetus was "the recent action of the Government of this colony in founding a National Art Gallery, for which suitable premises were in course of erection.'
The true foundation meeting of 8 May 1897, having approved the formation of the Society, proceeded with discussion on its constitution and the formal election of office bearers. It is now possible to reveal new evidence of SASA's activities in the indeterminate period between 1897 and its rebirth in 1902. A surviving catalogue from this period has recently been identified in the SANG Archives. This is a small publication on two bifolios entitled Catalogue of the Second Annual Exhibition of the South African Society of Artists, and previously dated 1903.'Curiosity was aroused by the fact that a larger catalogue already exists for the SASA/SADC Second Annual Exhibition at the Drill Hall in 1903. The small catalogue lists the Governor Sir Alfred Milner as main Patron of the Society." It also has a substantial list of another 37 patrons including the Reverend Alfred Bender. The Secretary is given as H. Morstatt, and there is a list of only 14 members, but a substantial list of 32 exhibitors.
A review of this exhibition was then found in The Cape Times. It confirms the venue of this exhibition as the banqueting room of the Good Hope Hall. It also states that this exhibition of 108 works was "a larger number than last year", thus confirming that SASA held a First Annual Exhibition in its foundation year. The review also discusses a number of works that are listed in the newly identified catalogue in the SANG Archive. The lack of any evidence of activity or exhibitions after 1898 suggests that SASA ceased to function when the Anglo-Boer War broke out.
It is also interesting to note that the Press announcement of the meeting at Kemp's Cafe, 71 Plain Street, on 26 September 1902 mentions, "consideration will be given to the preliminary constitution and rules." This implies that these documents were already in existence and that the new Society either used them as working documents or simply reconfirmed and adopted the original drafts of 1897.
Of the artists listed on this SASA exhibition of 1898, works by Sir Wyke Bayliss (qv.), Ethel Edwards (qv.), Gwelo Goodman (qv.), ].S. Morland (qv.), H. Morstatt (qv.), Borge Stuckenberg (qv.), R.H. Whale (qv.) and George Winkles (qv.) are featured on the present exhibition