South African landscape artist Walter Meyer died on 22 December 2017. A month away from his 53rd birthday. He was stabbed to death by his third wife. In 2021 Sophia Meyer was convicted and jailed for his murder. Meyer was born in 1965 in Aliwal North in the Eastern Cape. He matriculated in 1982 and went on to study art at University of Pretoria under Professor Nico Roos. He left South Africa in 1987 and continued his training at the Staatliche Kunstakademie Düsseldorf in Germany where he studied under the eccentric and flamboyant German artist Michael Buthe (1944 – 1994).

Walter Meyer, photograph by Catharina Scheepers, c 2000.

Influence

Meyer enjoyed living in Germany and he most likely appreciated Buthe’s encouragement for experimentation in art. But, over time, the alienation because of language created a longing for his birth country. He dealt with the isolation by painting South African landscapes from memory. Upon his return to South Africa in 1990 he made homes in a series of small towns where he immersed himself in his work. His collection of distinctive oil paintings developed into an index of unconventional South African places and spaces, and most often cast in the light of dawn or dusk.

Unlike Pierneef, the painter of Afrikaner nationalist aspirations, Meyer had no such agenda. He described his landscape studies as attempts to express the mood of certain places, or the mood of his memories of places. His paintings are evocations rather than statements. The inspiration for Meyer’s ease to pursue landscape painting in the mid 1990’s may well have been Michael Buthe. Buthe was a trailblazer who broke with art historical conventions and the boundaries that underpinned those notions. He operated very successfully from outside the norm and created a unique collection of works. Meyer did exactly the same, except in the very contested terrain of landscape painting.

Walter in his studio. Photograph by Catharina Scheepers. C. late 1990s

News reports of Meyer’s untimely death focused on the violent way he had died. Headlines such as ‘Requiem for a free spirit’ and ‘Tortured final years of an art genius’ zoomed in on his dependency on alcohol, a battle he fought for many decades. A constant, however, in all the reports was his undeniable status as one of South Africa’s foremost landscape artists.

Why a print series?

This suite of collectable editioned prints made from original paintings is aimed at keeping Walter Meyer in the present. By sharing the stories behind his paintings new narratives are added to his story. A beautiful print is also an excellent way to start a new collection, especially for beginner collectors. It is also a way to extend the holdings of those collectors with Walter Meyer paintings already in their collection. Importantly, it offers an opportunity to create a fund for his four children, three of whom are still minors. (Meyer’s eldest son, Gert Lukas Meyer born in 1994 passed away in 2022).

We connected each of the prints to a season because autumn shades are strongly associated with this artist. Walter painted bare-chested all through summer, and blossomed liked his roses in springtime. The time of the year he most disliked were the cold winter months.

Walter’s Five. 2022.

Spring

Walter’s Five is the debut print in this series and produced from a small untitled oil painting made in 1999. Five roses in a small vintage cut-glass vase set against a creamy yellow interior of the artist’s studio. A timeless still life representing spring. It is also reveals a story about Meyer’s deep passion for growing old-fashioned roses which started in 1995 when he moved his young family to the Free State town of Bethulie. The acclaimed potter Hylton Nel, who lived across the road, introduced Meyer to the world of roses and its rich history. Much like rose-rustlers elsewhere, known to band together over weekends in search of rare rose bushes Meyer too went scouring the countryside. He was thrilled when he came upon a surviving wild yellow Rosa foetida Persiana. He found it growing in a ruin near the site where a cluster of homes were demolished in the 1950’s to make way for the construction of the Gariep Dam. Finding this slender thorny gem with its unusual fragrance was to Meyer like finding his Holy Grail. A section of the bush was transplanted to his studio garden and nurtured. It may be one of the blooms featured in this painting.

Another introduction from Hylton Nel was Ludwig Taschner’s catalogue which Meyer kept on his bedside table. Taschner established Ludwig’s Roses in Pretoria in 1971 and his catalogue was a must-have for rose enthusiasts. Most of the blooms featured in Meyer’s painting were picked from bushes which he had ordered from this catalogue and planted in his studio garden. The central dark red rose in the painting is named Souvenir du Dr. Jamain; the one above it is Rosa damascena Trigintipetala, which only blooms in spring, and if conditions are favourable, also in late autumn. The Damask rose is from the Eastern Mediterranean, a known symbol of love and beauty. Its rose water is distilled for use in perfumes and Turkish Delight. The Damask was often the first to bloom in Walter’s beloved rose garden.

Olifantshoek Road, late afternoon. 2023

Summer

Walter Meyer painted, From the east in 2001. It was exhibited at Johans Borman gallery in Cape Town and then acquired by Sanlam for their permanent collection. In his book Impossible Skies, life with my brother, the artist Walter Meyer (2023) the author, Frans Meyer writes: My brother Walter painted the sky. And the light. This painting eloquently illustrates Frans’ words, and Walter’s superb painterly ability to captures that golden moment before the light of the day gently recedes into darkness. The limited edition print is titled Olifantshoek, late afternoon.

Nossob Riverbank, Kgalagadi. 2023

Autumn 

Walter’s distinctive style in the complicated terrain of South African landscape painting is recognised with this typical rural scene on the bank of the Nossob river. In 1998 Walter and his young family spent their first Kalahari summer on the opposite bank with the artist Vetkat Kruiper and a group of San friends: it was a time of fun, laughter, stories and music. His rendering, painted a few years later, is however not nostalgic, rather it is a vivid evocation of stillness. This composition of dwellings, a car wreck, a lonely figure and resting cattle, set against an autumn coloured earth and blue sky brims, much like all Meyer’s paintings with poetic melancholy. The limited edition print is titled Nossob Riverbank, Kgalagadi ParkWINTER is coming……

The original paintings are scanned and printed by Neil Williamson at PrintArt Cape Town. Printed on Hahnemühle Museum Etching paper. Edition / 25. Each print is emboss-stamped, numbered, titled, and initialled by the artist’s daughter, Sonja Susanna Meyer.

Catharina Scheepers and Heidi Erdmann.

Prints can be ordered from Heidi Erdmann in Cape Town and Sonja Meyer in Johannesburg. Visit the online platform, Walter Meyer paintings for more information.