Thursday, June 27, 2019 - 10:31

By chance, whilst researching an unrelated topic, Annel Meyer stumbled upon a photograph taken by the Pretoria based photographer Samuel Tweddill around 1880. This photograph was included in an article published on theheritageportal during July 2018 (click here to view).

This image caught Annel Meyer’s attention in that it seemed so familiar to a portrait painting, a family heirloom, that was painted of her great-grandfather’s mother during the 1950s, some 70 years after the original photograph was captured.

What is the statistical probability of matching a photograph with a painting and identifying the sitter at the same time?

As it is, the Hardijzer Photographic Research Collection currently only contains two images captured by Tweddill. Samuel Tweddill was only a part-time photographer and would not have captured the same number of images compared to full-time photographers at the time, explaining the limited number of images produced by him found today.

The lady on the photograph has now at least been identified as being Johanna (Hannie) Petronella Laurenci Bouwer (born Kok).

Daughter to Willem Johannes and Elizabeth Rebecca Kok, Johanna (Hannie) Kok was born near Bloemfontein, on 27 December 1862. Her parents were in the process of moving from Ladismith in the Cape to Transvaal (Pretoria) at the time of her birth. She was one of 10 children. Two younger sisters did not survive their childhood resulting in Hannie being the only surviving sister amongst 7 brothers. The family settled on the farm ‘Rooiwal’ just west of Pretoria.

At the age of 17, with her parent’s permission, she married 24-year-old Willem Christiaan Bouwer (nicknamed Rooiwal) from the neighbouring farm ‘Kalkheuwel’ on 22 September 1879. They had two children, namely Jan Jonathan – Born 1880 (Annel Meyer’s great grandfather) and Elizabeth Rebecca (Bettie) – Born 25 September 1881 (who later married a Viljoen).

Hannie sadly passed away at the young age of 21 during 1884. The cause of her death at such young age remains unknown. Considering that the Tweddill image dates from around 1880, she must have been 17 years old when this image was captured.

The photograph may well have been a wedding photo. From the painted portrait it can be seen that she has a ring, yet it cannot be clearly distinguished from the photograph (which is in a relatively poor condition).

Willem Bouwer remarried after Hannie’s passing and remained on Hannie’s parents farm. His second wife passed away during 1903 following her harsh experiences in an Anglo Boer-war concentration camp.

Hannie’s children each inherited a portion of the farm ‘Rooiwal’. Jan Bouwer’s portion was where the Lanseria airport is located today.

Willem Bouwer passed away during 1943 and lies buried on the farm, allegedly between his two wives. Sadly, the grave stones of his two wives have not survived. During 1909, the farm was renamed to ‘Lindley’.

More about the photograph and painting

Whilst Johanna may not seem happy on the original image, it needs to be kept in mind that posing for the camera in the earlier years of studio photography was stressful at the best of times in that the instruction would have been to sit still due to longer exposure times. Should she have moved, the image would have been blurred. Is this the only explanation? Maybe not. It is also possible that she was not a happy young lady at the time.

The question now arises – Was the painting produced from this single image in the Hardijzer Photographic Research Collection?

The original image is a smaller format Carte-de-Visite image. Often photographers would produce multiple images (between 6 or 12 images), depending on the budget of the customer. So, it could be that there are more photographs of Hannie Bouwer in circulation.

It was not uncommon for sitters to have requested an artist to paint a larger version of the photograph after the image was captured. Carte-de-Visite format images were small (54mm x 89mm) – A larger painting therefore became more desirable. It is also not unusual to find a photograph that has an inscription on the back that states who needs to be painted and the size of the painting to be produced.

Many pre-1900 photographs may therefore have matching paintings in circulation. The challenge lies in matching them. For both photograph and painting to have survived over the years also becomes less probable in that younger generations are inclined to destroy family history of this nature. It is this aspect that makes this find by the co-author Annel significant.

What makes this find even more significant is that the family knew that such painting was produced, but had no idea where the painting was, or whether it still existed. Then, by absolute chance, some 20 years ago, the painting (measuring 55cm x 44cm) was found by Bettie Viljoen’s granddaughter in a farm shed located near Potchefstroom. Although the granddaughter did not know who the lady on the portrait was, the painting was rescued and ended up with Annel Meyer. Bettie Viljoen (daughter to Hannie) in all probability had the painting made of her mother some 70 years after the photographic image was initially captured by Tweddill.

Aged around 3 years at the time of her mother’s death, with probably no recollection of her mother, Bettie would have had a distinct need to capture a part of her own life journey by having a larger representation painted of her mother. Bettie would have been in her 70s when the painting was produced.

Sadly, neither the artist nor the location of where the painting was produced is known.

Family legend has it that there was a family feud brewing at the time of, and shortly after Hannie’s death. Could Hannie’s unhappy facial expression on the photograph (which the painting then emphasises further) have been an early indication of the family feud?

About the author: Carol is passionate about South African Photographica – anything and everything to do with the history of photography. He not only collects anything relating to photography, but also extensively conducts research in this field. He has published a variety of articles on this topic and assisted a publisher and fellow researchers in the field. Of particular interest to Carol are historical South African photographs. He is conducting research on South African based photographers from before 1910. Carol has one of the largest private photographic collections in South Africa.

Sources

  1. Hardijzer Photographic Research Collection;
  2. Meyer, A. (www.geni.com – Willem Bouwer). Extracted June 2019
  3. Meyer, A. (www.geni.com – Johanna Bouwer). Extracted May 2019
  4. Pretoria huwelike 1872 – 1880 (www.e-family.co.za). Extracted June 2019
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