The distinctive vision of Walter Battiss reflects a mix of influences that positioned him among the world’s artistic movers and shakers. The Walter Battiss Art Museum in Somerset East is home to a vast collection of his work that reflects his journey from realism towards more abstract, symbolist art.

Did you know?

Walter Battiss wrote and published 10 books, as well as numerous articles in both local and international publications.

The art works in the Walter Battiss Art Museum are testament to the skill and imagination of one of South Africa's great artists, Walter Battiss. His unique vision saw his style move from realism towards more abstract, symbolist work which he felt reflected his South African heritage.

This Eastern Cape Art Gallery in Somerset East is home to his largest collection of art work and represents his evolution as an artist. He was completely current with the thinking and art trends being explored by his international contemporaries, and way ahead of the art mindset in South Africa at the time.

Battiss worked in oils and watercolours, woodblock and silk-screen prints. Calligraphic forms, animal and human abstractions and the influence of Ndebele beadwork began to emerge in his art in the 1950s.

There are also echoes of San Rock art in his work, which draws on Expressionism both in style and colours. The influence of artists such as Oskar Kokoshka and Ernst Ludwig Kirschner, known for their thick applications of impasto paint, dramatic colours and dark outlines, is also evident.

Although the collection is valuable as a whole, there are several important works to look out for when visiting this Somerset East gallery. These include Figures and Rocks from1940. This piece references Matisse's painting's La Joie de Vivre (1905) and Luxe, Calme et Volupte (1904) both stylistically and thematically.

Another important work is Father and son in the rocks from 1949. It was controversial because of its style and subject matter which was unlike any other form of painting being produced at that time in South Africa. It also expresses the influences of San rock art on Battiss' art.

Coco de Mer, Seychelles and Liza Minnelli from the 1970's show how international and contemporary Battiss work had become, with its references to the Pop Art of Andy Warhol and Robert Rauschenberg. The museum's collection of eight watercolours is also exceptional.

Battiss also created and participated in many different forms of interventionist, performances or art happenings and installations from the late ‘60's until his death in 1982.

Travel tips & Planning info

Who to contact

Somerset East Tourism
Tel: +27 (0)42 243 1448/
Email: bluecranetourism@telkomsa.net

How to get here

Somerset East is on the R63, between Cookhouse and Pearston. It is 180km from Port Elizabeth and 104km from Cradock. The museum address is number 45 Paulet Street, Somerset East,

Best time to visit

Opening hours are from 8.30 to 1pm and 2pm to 5pm daily, and 10am to 12 noon on Saturdays. Phone ahead if you'd like to organise a special viewing.

Around the area

The museum documents the Somerset East's rich history as a frontier town.

Tours to do

You can request a guided tour of the collection by contacting the Sommerset East Tourism office.

What will it cost

Entrance is R10 per person.