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1875 - 1944

Charles Ernest Peers was born in Castlereagh, Belfast, County Down, Northern Ireland, on the 8th August 1875, the son of William Henry and Mary Ann Peers. Charles grew up in Liverpool, where his family had moved when he was a boy. It was here, on the Mersey with its busy shipping, that he starred sketching, but he decided at first to pursue a naval career. He spent two years at the Admiralty Office, but his ambitions of becoming a naval architect were thwarted by the prohibitive cost of training. He retained a fascination with ships and harbour scenes throughout his life.

Meanwhile, Charles Peers devoted more and more time to drawing and watercolour painting, and even spent a short while studying at the Liverpool School of art, where he soon felt that he had little to learn. He emigrated to South Africa in 1904, probably for health reasons (he suffered from asthma), and settled in Cape Town. There, he soon established himself as one of the small band of professional artists and within a year was accepted as a member of the S.A. Society of Artists. He got married in 1908, went to live in Mowbray and settled down to a quiet but productive life, later working as a lithographer for a firm of printers and always keeping up a steady output of paintings and illustrations.

By the 'twenties Charles Peers had firmly established a reputation as the country's finest watercolourist. Though he was not a frequent exhibitor, his works found their way into the homes of many an-lovers. Catering for a broader public were the several books and albums on South African scenery which he illustrated.
Charles Peers distinguished himself in a variety of cultural spheres. He was a lover of music and literature, and was admitted to membership of the famous Owl Club, becoming its President in 1934. He was at one time President of the S.A. Fine Ans Association - the forerunner of the present S.A. Association of Ans - and in 1935 became the very active President of the K Club, an association formed to promote the arts and crafts and responsible for the preservation of the Martin Melck House, where it held its monthly meetings.

In 1938 Charles Peers was called upon to make his greatest contribution to the an life of his adopted coun­try. He was then already in his sixties and new art move­ments, different from the essentially 19th-century mode of expression in which he himself was steeped, had come to the fore, though they were slow to become accepted by the South African public. It was in that year that some of the more progressive artists of the day, such as Gregoire Boonzaier, Terence McCaw, Florence Zerffi, Freida Lock, Lippy Lipshitz, Walter Battiss, founded the New Group, which was to become the most significant artists' organization in South African art history.
Charles Peers was not one of the initiators of the New Group, but it was thought natural that he should be invited to participate in its first exhibition in the Argus Galleries - the only exhibitor who was exempted from selection by ballot. He was also elected the Group's first President, a position which he held till his death six years later. He took part in all the annual New Group exhibi­tions, and despite the basic conservatism of his own art, his support for the avant garde and his encouragement of young artists like Cecil Higgs, Maud Sumner, May Hillhouse, Jean Welz and Alexis Preller was given unhesitatingly and ungrudgingly.

Peers had never been a man of robust health, and his frequent painting excursions, often under adverse conditions, must have taken a heavier toll than he cared to admit. On the 28th of December 1944, not quite seventy years of age, he died in the cottage in Higgo Vale, Cape Town, nestling at the foot of Table Mountain, where he and his wife had been living for some time.


Bouman, A. C.: Painters of South Africa, Cape Town­Pretoria, 1949.
Berman, Esme: Art and artists of South Africa, Cape Town, 1970.


Title: Old Nectar
Size: 49 x 36 cm
Media: Watercolour
ID: 23821
Price: R 6 500 Framed

1875 Born in Castlereagh, Belfast, County Down, Nor­
thern Ireland.
1904 Emigrated to South Africa and settled in Cape
1905 Accepted as a member of the South African Society
of Artists.
1908 Married Agnes Mary Elizabeth Robb; lived in
Raapenberg Road, Mowbray.
1922 Started painting in oils.
1923 One-man exhibition of oils, watercolours and
pastels at Lezard's Galleries,Johannesburg.
1924 Winner of the Cape Times Publicity Poster Com­
1924 Joint exhibition with Allerley Glossop, Taylor Art
Gallery, Pietermaritzburg.
1926 Becomes a member of the newly founded S.A.
Institute of Art.
1926 Participates in the exhibition of the K Club in Cape
1927 Participates in the Inaugural Exhibition of the S.A.
Institute of Art in Durban,.
1930 Illustrates two albums with lithographic drawings
of topographic scenes: "The Cape" and "Natal".
1931 Employed as a chromo-lithographer by Galvin & Sales, Cape Town.

1934 Elected President of the Owl Club.
1935 Elected Chairman of the K Club.
1938 Invited to participate in the first exhipition of the newly established New Group, Argus Galleries, Cape Town.
1938 Becomes first President of the New Group.
1939 Joint exhibition with J. Pope-Ellis, Cape Town.
1939-1944 Participates in all the annual New Group
1944 Dies in his house in Higgo Vale.

Posthumous exhibitions:

1945 Featured at New Group exhibition, Cape Town,
with an entire wall devoted to his work.
1948 Represented in South African exhibition at Tate
Gallery, London.
1953 Work included in Rhodes Centenary Exhibition,
1957 Work included in exhibition "Founders of Painting at the Cape since 195 7" at S.A. National Gallery.
1975 Commemorative Exhibition, S.A. National Gallery.

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