About Walter Battiss | Art.co.za | Art in South Africa
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About The Artist

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In 1906 Walter Whall Battiss was born in Somerset East, a Karoo town in the Eastern Cape Province of South Africa.

After receiving his teaching diploma in 1933, Battiss started working at the Park School in Turffontein, Johannesburg. In 1936 he was appointed art master at Pretoria Boys School, where he would work for most of the next 30 years.

Battiss became a founding member of the New Group; and the only member who had not studied in Europe. In 1938 he visited Europe for the first time and met Abbe Henri Breuil.

He married Grace Anderson, a renowned art-educationalist, in 1940. It was at this stage that Battiss' previously realistic style of painting began to take on a hieratic, symbolist character.

While exhibiting a collection of South African art with the International Art Club in Italy in 1949, Battiss had his first meeting with Pablo Picasso and the futurist Gino Severini. Both these artists made strong impressions on him, and the influence of their work can be seen in his art.

1955 welcomed the appearance of calligraphic forms in Battiss' work, as well as the introduction of animal and human abstractions. The influence of Ndebele bead work in his art also became clear at this time, and he began to experiment with coloured woodcuts.

In 1962 Battiss began exhibiting numerous canvases using palette-knife colour mixing with graffito delineation of forms. As a result of his growing interest in Pre-Islamic culture, he took several trips from Central Africa to the Middle East.

Between the years of 1966 and 1968, Battiss made several trips to Greece; and thus began the influence of islands on his creative thinking. It was during this time that he published a hand-printed book of texts and serigraphs titled 'Nesos'. By 1969 he was working on serigraphy with Chris Betambeau in London, and in 1970 he organised the first South African exhibition of serigraphs.

When Battiss retired from his position as Professor of Fine Arts at UNISA in 1971, a special issue of 'De Arte' was published in his honour. In 1975 his wife, Grace, passed away.

In 1980 Battiss designed four stamps for the Botswana postal service. The Walter Battiss museum opened in Somerset East the following year, and remains open today.

On 20 August 1982, Battiss was struck down by a sudden heart attack and passed away. He was 76 years old.


  • 1906: Born 6 January in the Karoo town of Somerset East.
  • 1917: Battiss family moved to Koffiefontein where an engineer on the local mine first stimulated Walter Battiss' abiding interest in archeology.
  • 1936: Battiss begins serious study of rock art.
  • 1938: First visit to Europe where he met Abbe Henri Breuil foundation member of New Group.
  • 1940: Walter Battiss married the noted art-educationalist Grace Anderson; his previous realistic painting style begins to acquire hieratic, symbolistic character also works on woodcuts.
  • 1948: Undergoes expedition to the Namib Desert where he lived among Bushmen.
  • 1981: Walter Battiss Museum opens at his birth place.


  • 1929: His formal art studies started at the Witwatersrand Technical College (drawing and painting), followed by the Johannesburg Training College (a Teacher's Diploma) and etching lessons.
  • 1931 - 1932: Etching lessons with Emily Fern.
  • 1933: Receives teaching diploma from Johannesburg Training College (Teachers Diploma) and begins to teach art at Park School in Johannesburg.
  • 1941: Battiss finally obtained his Bachelor's Degree in Fine Arts at University of South Africa at the age of 35.


  • 1924: Walter Battiss became a clerk in the Magistrates Court at Rustenburg.
  • 1936: Walter Battiss is appointed artmaster at Pretoria Boys' High School.
  • 1952: Walter Battiss invited to lecture on South African art at University of London.
  • 1953: Appointed as the Principal of the Pretoria Art Centre.
  • 1954: Elected as a Member of the Executive Commission of the International Association of Plastic Arts; and as a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts.
  • 1958: Returned to teach art at Pretoria Boys' High School.
  • 1964: Appointed as the first professor and Head of the Department of History of Art and Fine Arts at Unisa.
  • 1960: Elected fellow of International Institute of Arts and Letters.
  • 1971: Retired from UNISA.


  • 1927: First one-man exhibition, Masonic Hall, Rustenburg.
  • 1929: Numerous one-man exhibitions throughout South Africa.
  • 1979/80: Comprehensive one-man exhibition, all major South African art museums.
  • 2005-2006: Standard Bank's retrospective and posthumous exhibition "Walter Battiss: Gentle Anarchist".
  • 2008: Retrospective of 1969 German prints, Gallery AOP, Johannesburg.
  • 2009: Retrospective of Drawings, Gallery AOP, Johannesburg.
  • 2010: Retrospective of 1973/4 Screenprints, Gallery AOP, Johannesburg.


  • 1929: Joint exhibition with John Lawson, Lezards Gallery. Johannesburg.
  • 1938 - 1948: 'New Group' Exhibitions.
  • 1944: Exhibits copies of rock paintings in Johannesburg; this is of art historical importance in South Africa as it is the first presentation of this art form from an aesthetic viewpoint.
  • 1948: Exhibition of South African art, Tate Gallery.
  • 1949 - 1952: Collection of South African art to Italy for exhibition with International Art Club.
  • 1952: Venice Bienalle.
  • 1956: First Quad of South African art; first London Exhibition, Imperial Institute.
  • 1957: Sao Paulo Bienalle.
  • 1958: Venice Bienalle.
  • 1960: Second Quad of South African art.
  • 1963: Sao Paulo Bienalle.
  • 1964: Second Quad of South African art.
  • 1965: Sao Paulo Bienalle (starred artist).
  • 1966: Republic Fest Exhibition, Pretoria.
  • 1970: Organized first South African exhibition of serigraphs at UNISA.
  • 1974: Contemporary South African Art, Athens.
  • 1975: South African Art, National Gallery of Rhodesia, Salisbury.
  • 1978/9: South African graphic art touring West Germany; Art from South Africa touring USA.
  • 1979: 'Watercolours from South Africa', Nuremburg, Germany; South African Printmakers, South African National Art Gallery, Cape Town.


  • 1944: Awarded the bronze medal and diploma for painting and woodcut at the International Olympiad Exhibition.
  • 1948: Awarded bronze medal and diploma for painting and woodcut at International Olympiad Exhibition.
  • 1954: Printing of Battiss' first serigraph.
  • 1956: Awarded the Pro Arte Medal by the University of Pretoria.
  • 1960: Elected a Fellow of the International Institute of Art and Letters.
  • 1964: Awarded the Medal of Honour by the South African Academy.
  • 1965: Elected as an Honorary Member of the Academy of Florence.
  • 1965: Founded the art periodical, 'De Arte', which was published by UNISA.
  • 1973: Awarded an Honorary D. Litt. et Phil. from UNISA.
  • 2009/ 2010: Included in major survey shows such as Dada South on view at the South African National Gallery from late 2009 to early 2010


  • 1953: Public Commissions Mural at Culemborg Hotel, Pretoria.
  • 1955: Public Commissions Mural for the foyer of City Hall, Pretoria.
  • 1961: Public Commissions Mural for Luxavia Airways, Johannesburg.
  • 1959-62: Public Commissions Mural for Transvaal Provincial Administration Building, Pretoria.
  • 1968: Public Commissions Mural at President Hotel, Johannesburg.
  • 1968: Public Commissions Mural at H F Verwoerd Building, Bloemfontein.
  • 1970: 'Bushmen Impressions' mural for the Fox Street Standard Bank Centre Branch, Johannesburg.
  • 1980: Design 4 stamps for Botswana postal services.


South African National Art Gallery, Johannesburg Art Gallery, Pretoria Art Museum, Durban Art Gallery, William Humphreys Gallery Kimberley, Hester Rupert Museum, UNISA, Cincinnati Gallery USA, Rembrandt Art Foundation, University of Witwatersrand Gallery, Anne Bryant Gallery East London, King George VI Gallery Port Elizabeth, Sandton Municipal Collection.