Wolf Kibel was born in Grodzisk, near Warsaw, Poland on 16 December 1903. As a young boy Kibel was preoccupied with carving. His father’s death in 1911 brought sudden insecurity to Kibel as a child. He studied briefly in Poland under the guidance of Appelbaum, a painter visiting from London. He became very motivated to see whether he had potential as a painter. At age of 20 he fled to Austria to avoid the draft, which was the norm in the Polish army at the time. 

Not being a citizen of Austria, Kibel could not enroll as state pupil, and was taught privately. Between 1923 and 1925 he studied painting under Prof. Pick-Moroni in Vienna, suffering ill health from an impoverished lifestyle. He was advised by his mentor to and settled in Palestine, as he lacked travel documents to enter France, his desired destination. He did stay briefly in Jerusalem, where he again took ill and became destitute. Kibel lived on the beach in Tel Aviv until someone he had befriended gave him money to rent a room.

In Tel Aviv he soon established himself as a good painter. It was here that he started studying modern techniques of painting, as well as met and married his wife Frieda. Further ill health in 1929 resulted in Kibel’s decision to relocate to Cape Town, where already lived. He left his wife and child in Tel Aviv with plans for them to join him in Cape Town in 1933. In 1932 he set up an art studio with the sculptor, Lippy Lipshitz, who had returned that year from Paris. They gathered some pupils and Kibel started settled into developing his painting. Wolf Kibel exhibited in 1931,1933, 1935 and 1937 in Cape Town. His paintings were genre pieces (portraits, still life and some landscapes) much admired by the public for its vibrant use of colour informed by expressionism.

Kibel was diagnosed with advanced tuberculosis in 1937 and the following year he died. Retrospective exhibitions were held in 1947 and 1950 in Johannesburg and Cape Town’s National Art Gallery respectively. Subsequently, a number of exhibitions of his work occurred in Cape Town, Johannesburg and Pretoria.

Art Education

- Wolf Kibel studied art briefly as a boy in Poland under a visiting London painter Applebaum. 
- 1923 to 1925 Studied art under Professor Pick-Morina, Vienna.

Short Life timeline

1911 His father's death brought insecurity into his life; was apprenticed to a purse-maker at nearby village of Kutna, haunted the library there and was dismissed from his work for day-dreaming; His decision to paint was determined by the praise of Applebaum.

1923 to 1925 By the age of 20 Wolf Kibel fled to Vienna to escape conscription; aimed to get to Paris but did not have the funds; met Pick Morino, teacher at the State Academy, received private art training from him.

1925 to 1929 Wolf Kibel was persuaded go to Palestine; Lived for a time in Jerusalem, Lodged in an ancient monastery near the Tower of David; Took seriously ill; Lived on the beach at Tel Aviv until a friend gave him money to rent a room; Met and married Frieda; Struggled financially and sold few paintings.

1929 His brother was Cantor at the Gardens Synagogue in Cape Town and encouraged Wolf Kibel to come to South Africa; Wife went to stay with her family in Europe while he established a home in South Africa; on arrival worked on decorating the Alhambra Cinema and worked in the Plaza Cinema, Pretoria.

1931 His first exhibition evoked a storm of abuse; Hugo Naude invited him to holiday in Worcester where he learned to etch.

1933 Frieda Kibel joins her husband in South Africa; Wolf Kibel exhibits again.

1934 Friendship develop between Wolf Kibel and Lippy Lipschitz, jointly they rent a studio in Roeland Street - 'Palm Studios' ; Wolf Kibel's four most productive years followed.

1935 His third art exhibition at Ashbey's Art Gallery opened by Lipshitz, public reaction abusive but receives favourable review by Melvin Simmers in 'Cape Times' ; worked in oils, etchings and monotypes; desperate battle to survive - health failing.

1936 Show of graphics, first public art exhibition of his monotypes.

1937 Ejected from studio; June last art exhibition; Health collapsed immediately after exhibition, removed to hospital where he remained until his death from tuberculosis.

1975 Wolf Kibel's "Still-life with bird was sold at Sotheby's Johannesburg to the Pretoria Art Museum for R8 800


- 1931 Wolf Kibel's first one-man exhibition, Cape Town
- 1936 Empire Exhibition, Johannesburg
- 1942 Memorial Exhibition, Johannesburg
- 1948 Overseas Exhibition of South African Art, Tate Gallery
- 1950 Memorial Exhibition, Johannesburg
- 1966 Special Commemorative Exhibition, Pretoria
- 1968 Exhibition of monotypes, Cape Town
- 1976/7 Prestige Retrospective Exhibition, South African National Art Gallery, William Humphreys Art Gallery, Pretoria Art Museum, Johannesburg Art Gallery.
- 1979 ' South African Printmakers' South African National Art Gallery, Cape Town.

Public Art Collections

South African National Art Gallery Cape Town, William Humphreys Art Gallery Kimberley, Durban Art Gallery, Pretoria Art Museum, King George VI Art Gallery Port Elizabeth, Tatham Art Gallery Pietermaritzburg, Rembrandt Foundation, WITS Art galleries, UNISA.


Berman, E. (1993). Painting in South Africa, Johannesburg: Southern Books, pp. 82-83.|Fransen, H. (1982). Three Centuries of South Africa Art, Johannesburg: A. D. Donker, pp. 288-292.|Potgieter, D.J. (ed)(1972). Standard Encyclopedia of Southern Africa Vol. 6, Cape Town: Nasou, pp. 376-377.|Wolf Kibel. Website: arcyart.com

Collections in the Archives