'On board ship' signed 'Krige' (lower right) oil on canvas 72 x 87cm (28 3/8 x 34 1/4in).
PROVENANCE: A private collection
LITERATURE: Justin Fox, The life and art of Francois Krige, (Vlaeberg, 2000), illustrated p.61
On Board Ship is a compelling example of work inspired by Krige's time as an official war artist with the English forces in the Second World War, along with fellow South African artists (and members of the New Group) Neville Lewis and Terence McCaw. Krige served with the forces in North Africa. This piece differs to his other war artworks both in subject and in the richness of colour used. The scene depicts an effect of war often overlooked by war artists and journalists: the group mentality and camaraderie catalysed by war. Thus while Krige references fighting, it is of an order entirely different to that seen in the destruction and suffering registered by other works.
As a result, On Board Ship offers a different perspective on war: the tedium of military travel mitigated by sportsmanship, combined with the emotional anticipation of war. Having joined the army as a war artist and so bypassed formal military training, Krige never directly experienced battle. He was, instead, forever the spectator, a position heightened by his reclusive nature. As Justin Fox has examined, Krige's duty as a war artist was at odds with his painting style and preferred subjects: "In keeping with his practice as an artist before the war, Krige was often more interested in the landscape and in depicting characters rather than battle scenes or portraits of heroes [...and thus] he struggled to deliver what was required of him." In 1944, Krige requested to be discharged, no longer able to assimilate the intensity of the experience. A few years after his return to South Africa, he was awarded the medal of honour by the South African Academy of Science and Arts, recognising his artistic achievements.
In the mid-eighties, Krige nostalgically revisited many of the significant experiences of his life, including the war years: "It was a time for looking back over his life. He revisited the emotional space of the war and repainted scenes of bombarded buildings in Foggia (1980) and the large troopship oil entitled On Board Ship." Few of the other paintings informed by this period of his life are similarly vibrant.
BIBLIOGRAPHY: Justin Fox, The life and art of Francois Krige, (Vlaeberg, 2000), pp.48, 105