Born in 1876 in Sea Point, Cape Town, Ethel May Dixie was the youngest of six girls and three boys. Strangely enough, as a month-old infant not expected to live, she had an emergency baptism and yet was able to earn a living from her paintings until her 97th year! She was devoted to her father, Daniel Dixie, a general hardware merchant situation in mid-Adderley Street, Cape town who died at an early age when ethel was only 6 years old. A coxswain of the Union Boat Club, he often took Ethel, and an older sister, Edith, rowing in Table Bay- Ethel would recall with great sentimentality her enjoyment on these occasions.
Ethel’s eldest sister, Elizabeth, who had received formal art lessons from a famous painter, was able to help and guide Ethel in her painting. Largely self-taught Ethel chose the medium of water-colours for her hobby which occupied her school vacations and eventually became her living. She was educated at Mrs Percival’s “Vredenburg High School for girls in Long Street, Cape Town. One of her subjects was botany. The examiner for which was Dr Rudolph Marloth, who no doubt was influenced to such an extent by her work that she was later accepted as principle illustrator for his series, The Flora of South Africa, a classical series of 6 volumes commencing in 1913 which today are rare, valuable collectors items.
In her mature years Ethel lived at Avondrust home in Rondebosch, Cape Town, where her and her sister Edith were two of the first occupants. Disciplined by nature, she would paint at her half-moon table from 9 until noon, if the light was right. Her paintings would each take a week to complete and were sold at the annual Avondrust sale in aid of the old age home.
The original paintings from which these limited-edition prints are made were painted by Ethel from fresh flower samples, bound in four albums dating from 1900 to 1917. She used these original paintings as her “master copies” for subsequent paintings. Some of the botanical specimens painted in Ethel’s original albums were so intricate and time consuming that she confessed to never painting them again. Such an example is the Adenandra uniflora in this series. Ethel’s favourite colour was mauve, and her favourite flower was the Roella Ciliata, also featured in this series. The eight specimens featured in this exclusive limited edition from a total of 109 in Ethel May Dixie’s albums are the first in a series to be released by her family who retain copywrite on all works by the artist.
In winter Ethel was not able to sport cardigans but wore knitted caps instead, usually in shades of mauve, so as not to restrict the movement of her arms for painting. Still bright and spritely in her mid-nineties, Ethel would walk up and down the stairs to and from her room upstairs at Avondrust, rather than use the lift claiming that she needed the exercise.
Ethel’s sole interest in painting was related to flora. She once admitted to attempting to paint a house but when it came out as bit as Table Mountain in the background, she went back to painting flowers and never tried anything else ever again.
On her 90th birthday Ethel May Dixie was made an honorary life member of the Botanical Society of South Africa in recognition of her services to botany. Many of her works have been donated or bequeathed through various collectors’ estates, libraries, collections, and galleries, mostly situated in Cape Town. She passed away peacefully in her 98th year, yet through her exquisite true to life floral paintings her memory lives on.
Artist: ETHEL MAY DIXIE
Title: Gladiolus Blandus
Size: 23 x 33 cm
Price: R 375 Unframed