The Mealipap Eater
Anton Van Wouw
(South African, 1862-1945)
Signed A. van Wouw/S.A. Joh-burg and inscribed G. Nisini fuse/Roma
Bronze with a rich dark brown patination on a red and brown veined marble base
Height: 6.5" (16.5 cm)
Conceived and cast circa 1907
Anton Van Wouw is considered the father of South African sculpture and is well known for his portraits of the indigenous people of the region. The present work depicts a member of the Shangaan people, who lived in southern Mozambique and in the Northern Transvaal or Limpopo province of South Africa. The original Shangaans had taken their name from the Zulu warrior Soshangane, and were once the rulers of the Gaza Empire.
Here we see a young man sitting with a three-legged pot from which he spoons the traditional South African porridge mealipap. The model used by the sculptor can also be seen in Van-Wouw’s portrait of 1907, simply titled Shangaan. Given that the age of the model does not appear to have changed between these two works, it is reasonable to assume the present work was also conceived the same year.
Although his subject matter was inspired by his life and travels in Africa, Van Wouw had his work cast in Italy where he could find the quality of casting and attention to detail that he required. The present exquisitely detailed cast is no exception, bearing the foundry mark G. Nisini fuse/Roma. The high level of cast quality brings to life the delicate modeling executed by Van Wouw on the face, hands and feet of the boy, as well as the pot. Lifetime Italian casts of this model were traditionally mounted on a separate marble base, as seen in the present example. Later posthumous castings include an integral bronze base and the right hand of the boy holding a stick above the pot, rather than scraping food from it.
Anton Van Wouw working in his studio circa 1910.