Gerard Sekoto left South Africa for Paris in 1947 and remained in exile, where he struggled to sustain his career as an artist, until his death forty-six years later. He battled at first to adjust to the city and its art world, but, in his biography of Sekoto, N Chabani Manganyi writes that, ‘by the beginning of the 1960s, he was firmly settled and ready to move forward in his art and life. His reputation was peaking …’ (A black man called Sekoto,
Johannesburg, 1996, p125). This shift is evident in this view of Paris which stands in contrast to the nostalgic scenes and portraits of township and rural life in South Africa that he mostly painted in these years. Only on rare occasions did he depict his Parisian surroundings such as this view of the Pont Neuf that traverses the Seine and leads directly to the Latin Quarter. He has painted this work in a cold palette of blue hues in contrast to the warm palette of his South African years and first decade in Paris. According to a label on the back of the painting, Le Pont Neuf
comes from Galerie Claude Levin, in Paris, a contemporary gallery that operated in the early 1960s yet not recorded as exhibiting Sekoto at the time.
A conversation in Nadine Gordimer’s A world of strangers,
published in 1958 (pp87–8), reflects an awareness of Sekoto’s absence from South Africa in the years just before this oil was painted. It also illustrates the local lack of real knowledge of his work at the time, a situation that has only been rectified since the late 1980s:
‘Steven Sithole appeared beside me. “What’s Gerard Sekoto turning out these days?” someone turned to ask him. He shrugged, grinned irresponsibly. “I wouldn’t know. Do you know what’s happened to him?” he asked me.
“Who’s that?” I said.
“I don’t think he’s known in England,” Anna put in.
“Oh but he must be,” said the grey-haired man, “Isn’t he hung somewhere important, the Tate?”
“Musée National d’Art Moderne bought something,” whispered Dorothea, “not London”.’