This work was exhibited on Coetzee's seminal exhibition at the Hanover Gallery in London in 1955. After studying at Wits University, he spent a year in London in 1951 on a postgraduate scholarship, then returned briefly to Johannesburg. The drudgery of clerical positions compelled Coetzee to return to London at the end of 1953, when he met the famous photographer and stylist Anthony Denney who started collecting his work and introduced him to the Hanover Gallery.
The exhibition, opened by Loelia, Duchess of Westminster, comprised 51 still lifes and portraits. The critic Oswell Blakestone wrote, "if you are weary of austerity, treat yourself to Christo Coetzee. Paints are used like jewels and the still lifes have a richness that makes us forget the hour. Here is the atmosphere of a magic palace and the girls' heads with crowns of flowers are passport photographs for poetry."
The imagery of the still lifes of this period is lyrical and romantic yet often strange; Grecian vases, urns, fish and crustaceans, eggs, fruit, birdcages and boxes are grouped together in unlikely combinations. The forms and textures of the objects are echoed in the passages of impasto as well as incisions and scrapings into the wet paint which heighten their tactile and at times surreal qualities. Coetzee continued painting still lifes throughout his life but the taut primordial and skeletal sensibility of the early works sets them distinctly apart from the later, more tranquil compositions.
We are grateful to Michael Stevenson of the Michael Stevenson Gallery, Cape Town for his permission to reproduce the above footnote.