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The South African Artist Behind Mandela’s Favourite Portrait: Cyril Coetzee

The artist who painted Nelson Mandela’s favourite portrait has just completed one of Strive Masiyiwa, Zimbabwean billionaire, philanthropist and African Union Special COVID-19 Envoy

Cyril Coetzee has found himself, paintbrush poised, ready to capture some of Africa’s most prominent figures and moments. He was commissioned not once, but twice, to paint the portrait of the late Nelson Mandela for the former president’s private collection. The first of these portraits was completed during Mandela’s presidential term and deemed by Madiba himself as his favourite. This portrait was then sent to the rest of the world in the form of the International Commemorative Postage Stamp for Mandela’s 90th birthday.

Flash forward twenty years, and Coetzee is again the artist of choice for dignitaries and prominent names in global affairs and commerce. This time, it’s Strive Masiyiwa, another African making his mark on the continent and the world, who has been captured on canvas.

Why Coetzee was chosen by Mandela and now Masiyiwa is clear. His paintings are not just visual masterpieces, they are an intriguing encapsulation of the subject’s soul and essence. Coetzee conveys each subject in a way that says to the viewer: “I’m thinking something, but you don’t quite know what!” – creating a feeling of mystery and connection between subject and viewer. His portraits are emotional, enticing and personal.

This talent is what has made Coetzee one of South Africa’s most prominent and award-winning portrait artists. He has painted renowned academics, businesspeople, bankers and legal professionals, such as Matthew Phosa, Colin Bundy, Anton Rupert, Graça Machel, Conrad Strauss and George Bizos, to name but a few. He was chosen by the prestigious Belmond Mount Nelson Hotel in Cape Town to be the artist-in-residence from 2018 to 2020. The William Cullen Library, an internationally renowned archive at the University of the Witwatersrand, houses a 28mcanvas by the artist.

Outside of South Africa, Coetzee’s talent has been recognised across the world. His works have been exhibited globally in a variety of public and private collections, including the Royal Ontario Museum, Standard Bank in London, School of Oriental and African Studies in London, Madiba Gallery in New York, Gallery 505 in Washington DC, and Lalit Kala Academy of Arts in New Delhi.

Coetzee also happens to be a skilled curator, respected art historian and lecturer. He has curated several exhibitions for the Standard Bank Gallery in Johannesburg and has lectured both locally and internationally, in South Africa, United Kingdom, United States, Canada and Switzerland. In 2006, he penned a much-lauded monograph on the work of Harold Voigt, entitled The Poetry of Sight.

Although he currently works full-time as an artist, he hasn’t forgotten his academic background entirely, hosting regular painting workshops and master classes throughout South Africa. He is much sought after as both a teacher and painter of note, making his meaningful mark on lives – and on the South African artistic landscape – just as he captures them on canvas through his stellar mark-making…

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