Anton van Wouw’s sculptures on buildings in Pretoria

27 May 2009

It is not widely known that South Africa’s most important pioneer sculptor, Anton van Wouw (1862-1945), received his initial training as an architectural sculptor. At an early stage in his career he worked for a concrete casting factory in Delft, where he learnt the art of concrete-modelling and casting, but the turning point in his early career was his friendship with the Belgian architect, Vieillevoye, from whom he learnt to know and appreciate the different styles of architecture. Van Wouw’s father, who was working in South Africa, wanted Anton to become involved in the booming building trade of the time in the Transvaal Republic. Anton came to Pretoria on 1 January 1890 and soon attracted the attention of Pretoria’s pioneer master-builder, John J. Kirkness, who at that time was building the Raadsaal on Church Square and needed an architectural sculptor to create the old Republican coat of arms for the pediment over the entrance to his building. This was Van Wouw’s first important architectural commission in Pretoria. In the years to come, after the Raadsaal commission, he was to create architectural sculpture for at least eight prominent buildings in the capital city. They include the Old National Bank and Mint (1893), the Old Standard Bank building (1894), the Reserved Investments Building (1904), and the Main Post Office building (1909), all on Church Square, the Union Buildings (1910) on Meintjeskop, the old Technical College building (1928) in Church Street and the Abattoir building in Schoeman Street.