The artist Walter Battiss is synonymous with the city of Pretoria, where he lived in Giotto’s Hill, the house he built in Menlo Park, from 1940 until his death in 1982.
He is most closely associated with Pretoria Boys High School, where he taught art from 1933 until 1964, except for a brief sojourn on the staff at Rhodes University. He was appointed Professor of Fine Art at Unisa in 1964, a post he held until his retirement in 1972.
Strauss & Co is fortunate to be able to offer a very rare early Battiss painting on their 25 May 2020 auction of important South African and international art in Johannesburg. The work shows a spectacular view of the school’s sports field with an athletics meeting in progress.
The foreground depicts the sweeping curve of the running track with the various school and house banners prominently displayed on the side. In the background, the outline of the central dome of the main building of the school is instantaneously recognisable. When the old wooden statue of a male youth that surmounted the dome was struck by lightning, Battiss was instrumental in casting it in more permanent bronze.
Boys High has a strong holding of Battiss works in its school museum and some very interesting documents of the art history curriculum that Battiss complied for his students. Many humorous stories abound about Battiss’ teaching style and the quirky nature of his art classes. Pablo Picasso was right on top of the list of artists to study.