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Alexis Preller - South African Artist From Art History

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Historical Artist - Alexis Preller (1886 - 1968)

Alexis Preller was born in Pretoria, South Africa 1911 - 1975

Art Education
- 1934 Alexis Preller studied art at Westminster School of Art, London, under Mark Getler.
- 1937 Studied art at Grande Chaumiere, Paris, under Othon Frieze.
- 1946 Study-trip to London and Paris.
- 1953 Study-tour of Italy and Egypt.

Short Artist Biography
- 1911 to 1934 Alexis Preller was educated at Pretoria Boys High School, active in theatrical ventures; after completing school Alexis Preller worked for some time as a clerk before persuading his family to allow him to seek a future in the arts.
- 1934 Encouraged by his lifelong friend, Norman Eaton, Alexis Preller set off for London; there JH Pierneef advised him to enroll at Westminster School; with guidance from Gertler he made the choice of painting as his career.
- 1935 Returned to Pretoria via East Coast of Africa, held his first art exhibition; early works were emotional with strong colour and distortion.
- 1937 On return from further studies in Paris Alexis Preller stayed for a while in Swaziland painting continuously; exhibited in Johannesburg; referred to in Press as 'South African Gauguin'.
- 1938 Alexis Preller joined the New Group, included on its first art exhibition.
- 1939 Set out on a safari into the Congo; impressed by tribal ritual and sculptures; stirred by witnessing erupting volcanoes; outbreak of war brought him back to Pretoria.
- 1940 to 1943 Alexis Preller joined the Field Ambulance Corps, POW in North Africa and Italy until 1943; returned to South Africa and exhibited in Johannesburg; recollections of war experiences influenced his paintings; development of 'urn-heads' and surrealistic imagery; beginning of Blue Period
- 1944 Builds 'Ygdrasil' , his studio designed by Norman Eaton.
- 1946 Again in Europe; study in Museums concentrating on Greek sculpture; phase of extensive self-exploration and imaginative translation of themes for Alexis Preller.
- 1948 Appearance of book, 'Alexis Preller' by Christi Truter, with autobiographical introduction.
- 1948 to 1949 Visits to Zanzibar and Seychelles Islands followed by many paintings; urgency of earlier expression followed by greater serenity; palette mellows toward Brown Period; development of previous themes relating to 'Ndebele Culture'; member of International Art Club, South Africa.
- 1953 Alexis Preller received Molteno Award; mural commissioned for Johannesburg offices of Receiver of Revenue; trip to Italy, where he studied frescoes in Florence and Arezzo; much impressed and influenced by Piero della Francesca; on return-trip visited Egypt, hieratic expression of that ancient culture had lasting impact on his work.
- 1954 Moved to a farm near Hartebeespoort Dam.
- 1955 Alexis Preller awarded Medal of Honour of South African Akademie.
- 1955 to 1958 Period of hieratic figure compositions; development of individual formal idioms and mythological symbolism.
- 1958 Last one-man exhibition Johannesburg; won national Univleis Competition.
- 1962 Several avenues explored: abstract symbolism, informalism and culmination of Quattrocento-style conceptions.
- 1965 Beginning of Gold Period; controversy regarding both new abstract and continued figurative expression, but great demand for all his paintings.
- 1968 Trip to Greece and Italy; began his autobiography.
- 1969 Alexis Preller experiments with 'intaglio' painting using moulded fibre-glass.
- 1971 Travels in Greece and Italy.
- 1972 Prestige Retrospective Exhibition, Pretoria Art Museum, prompted renewed exploration of several earlier themes.
- 1973 Began building 'Mudif' , a guest house in Middle Eastern Marsh-Arab tradition; filming of documentary production co-directed by Esme Berman and Edgar Bold interrupted by Preller's ill health - completed 1974.
- 1975 Last Exhibition, Johannesburg; died of heart attack.

Art Exhibitions
- 1935 Alexis Preller's first one-man art exhibition, Pretoria.
- 1936 Empire Art Exhibition, Johannesburg.
- 1938 New Group Exhibition, Cape Town and subsequent exhibitions.
- 1948 Overseas exhibition of South African Art, Tate Gallery.
- 1952 Van Riebeeck Tercent Exhibition, Cape Town.
- 1954 Venice Biennale.
- 1956 Venice Biennale.
- 1966 Republic Fest Exhibition, Pretoria.
- 1972 Prestige Retrospective Exhibition, Pretoria Art Museum.
- 1973 Sao Paulo Biennale.

Public Art Collections
South African National Art Gallery, Cape Town; Johannesburg Art Gallery; Pretoria Art Museum; Durban Art Gallery; William Humphreys Art Gallery, Kimberley; King George VI Art Gallery, Port Elizabeth; Ann Bryant Art Gallery, East London; Hester Rupert Museum; Africana Museum, Johannesburg; Rembrandt Art Foundation; University of Wits Art Gallery; UNISA; Sandton Municipal Collection.

Berman, E. 1994. Art & Artists of South Africa . Southern Book Publishers.

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