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Martin Alfred Richard

Liverpool 1871 – 1939 Johannesburg

British-South African Painter

Portrait of a Zulu Girl, KwaZulu-Natal, South-Africa

Signature: not signed
Medium: oil on board
Dimensions: image size 59 x 48,5 cm, frame size 74,5 x 64 cm

Alfred Richard Martin, a distinguished British-South African artist, was born in Liverpool, in 1871. Initially pursuing a career in architecture, Martin shifted his focus to the fine arts, a decision that would define his legacy in the artistic world. He began his formal art education at the Liverpool School of Art, where he had the opportunity to study under the renowned artist Augustus John. This foundational experience was further enriched by his time at the Westminster School of Art in London, where he was mentored by the influential painter Walter Sickert.

Martin’s architectural background remained a significant influence throughout his career. His skills in design and structural aesthetics found expression in various large-scale projects, including commissioned murals, decorative panels, and sculptural bas-reliefs. His work graced numerous civic buildings, churches, and even ocean liners, showcasing his versatility and the seamless integration of artistic vision with architectural form. Notably, he contributed to the criminal courts of the Old Bailey, leaving a lasting imprint on one of London’s most iconic institutions.

In addition to his architectural and decorative endeavors, Martin’s career took an intriguing turn when he became involved in scenic painting for various London theatres. This experience broadened his artistic horizons and led to a significant opportunity in 1916 when he secured a contract with African Theatres in South Africa. This move marked the beginning of a fruitful chapter in his life and career on the African continent.

By 1919, Martin had established himself in South Africa and was appointed to the staff of the Natal University College. He dedicated himself to this role, nurturing the next generation of artists and contributing to the cultural landscape of the region until his retirement in 1934. His tenure at the university was marked by a profound influence on his students and colleagues, reflecting his commitment to education and artistic excellence.

Martin’s artistic oeuvre was diverse and eclectic, spanning portraiture, ethnographic studies, and sculpture. His portraits captured the essence of his subjects with remarkable sensitivity, while his ethnographic works offered valuable insights into the cultural fabric of his adopted home. His sculptures, on the other hand, demonstrated a mastery of form and an ability to convey deep emotion through three-dimensional media.

Throughout his life, Alfred Richard Martin remained a dedicated and prolific artist, seamlessly blending his architectural expertise with his artistic endeavors. His contributions to both the British and South African art scenes were substantial, leaving a legacy that continues to be appreciated by art historians and enthusiasts alike. Martin passed away in Johannesburg, in 1939, but his work endures, a testament to his skill, creativity, and enduring impact on the world of art.

Abbott and Holder Gallery, London; Douwes Fine Art, Amsterdam

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