Petrus Hendriks, A Coloured Girl, 1943_ISANG Collection

- Anton Petrus Hendriks was born in Rotterdam and studied in Rotterdam and Paris. After a chance meeting with JH Pierneef in Amsterdam, he visited South Africa to exhibit with him in Pretoria. The proposed exhibition didn’t take place because he found difficulty in adjusting to the strange, harsh light, and thus confined his painting to portrait commissions. He remained in South Africa, working at the Pretoria Tech Art School and later as Director of the Johannesburg Art Gallery from 1937 – 1966. During this time he ceased exhibiting completely, but he did continue to paint ad hoc portraits. His painting style was conservative, displaying a scholarly respect for the realist conventions of the school which nurtured him and a thorough understanding of the technical requirements of oil painting
This portrait was painted during his time at JAG, and it is unclear if it was a commission or not. The image features a married woman, evident from the wedding ring on her right hand which is elegantly folded on her lap. She is well-dressed, although the style is somewhat dated for the time, and her hair is covered as befitting a married woman. She sits tall and her gaze confronts the viewer directly. The title of the work is telling of its time and attitudes about class and race. While many paintings of women at the time were simply titled ‘Portrait of a Lady’ or ‘Portrait of a Woman’, she is not afforded the respect of being referred to as either a lady or a woman – even though she is clearly a married woman. This manner of titling almost seems to jar with the dignity and strength she has been painted with. Interestingly, another version of this work exists, an undated watercolour, in which a large fruit bowl covers the woman’s hands and she appears much younger.