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Oliewenhuis Art Museum

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Oliewenhuis Art Museum is an Art Museum which holds in trust an historical and contemporary art collection on behalf of the people of South Africa. The Art Museum aims to enrich people's knowledge, understanding and appreciation of South Africa’s cultural heritage, to reflect its full diversity, to provide a cultural and educational resource, to encourage involvement in the visual arts and to nurture a culturally diverse but shared national identity.

Historical Background[edit]

Oliewenhuis, a Neo-Dutch style mansion, was designed by William Mollison, Head Architect of the Department of Public Works and his assistant, John Stockwin Cleland in 1935. Completed in 1941, this mansion served as residence for the Governor General of the Union of South Africa from 1942. After the establishment of the Republic of South Africa in 1961, Oliewenhuis became the official Bloemfontein dwelling of the State Presidents of South Africa. The residence was used once a year for this purpose. In 1972 the building was officially named Oliewenhuis, the name being derived from the abundance of wild olive trees growing on the surrounding hills.

On 19 July 1985, after prolonged campaigning by the art-loving citizens of Bloemfontein for an art museum, former State President P.W. Botha released the residence to the National Museum, Bloemfontein for the purpose of converting it into an Art Museum. Several structural alterations and adjustments had to be made to the existing building to provide a suitable environment for the conservation and exhibition of artworks. On 11 October 1989, Oliewenhuis Art Museum was officially opened as a satellite of the National Museum.

Permanent Collection[edit]

A selection of artworks from the Permanent Collection exhibited on the first floor of the Main Building showcases a diverse range of styles and media. The Permanent Collection is devoted exclusively to works produced by South African artists and has a solid foundation of early South African artists, including works by Thomas Baines, J.E.A Volschenk, J.H. Pierneef and W.H. Coetzer. The Museum continues expanding its collection of works by contemporary South African artists.

A contemporary highlight is Willem Boshoff's Blind Alphabet A, an attraction for sight-impaired visitors that comprises 94 descriptive shapes, with Braille essays; the sculpted pieces are small enough to be picked up and handled by sight-impaired visitors.

A considerable number of works have been acquired through donations and bequests; outstanding among these is a collection of works from the City Council of Bloemfontein. This collection, which was ceded to Oliewenhuis Art Museum at its inception in 1989, together with artworks from the National Museum’s Permanent Collection, formed the basis of the Permanent Collection.

During 2006, Oliewenhuis Art Museum received a donation from The Haenggi Foundation Incorporated (Basel, Switzerland), comprising 295 artworks produced by South African artists between 1970 and 1990. In 2009 Oliewenhuis received an additional donation consisting of 51 works from Haenggi’s personal collection and four works from the Pelmama Permanent Collection. These donations represent significant additions to the Art Museum’s collection. The generosity of The Haenggi Foundation Inc. and the financial backing and cooperation of the Department of Arts and Culture made this successful repatriation project possible.

African Carousel Project[edit]

The African Carousel is certainly a highlight of the Museum’s collection. The African Carousel Project, a public sculpture commission comprising 16 original artworks, was completed in 1997. The African Carousel lends itself to introducing a wider concept of art making to audiences, including movement, physical use and fun while still being serious in its aesthetic content.

Sculpture Park[edit]

At the end of 2003, Oliewenhuis Art Museum received funding from the National Lotteries Distribution Trust Fund to launch and to co-ordinate a Sculpture Park Project. Sculptors residing and working in South Africa were invited to submit proposals for consideration for the execution and erection of sculptures to be permanently installed in the Museum gardens. The Sculpture Park, comprising twelve sculptures, was officially opened on 7 May 2005 and provides an environment that allows for an almost per-chance encounter with three-dimensional form and demonstrates how a public space can be successfully created to the benefit of the surroundings and the people it serves.

Cement and Mosaic Project[edit]

During 2007, fourteen previously marginalized artists designed and created five functional sculptures in cement and mosaic in the gardens of Oliewenhuis Art Museum. This project was made possible through financial assistance provided by the Department of Arts and Culture.

Temporary Exhibitions[edit]

Between 10 and 14 temporary exhibitions are hosted in the Art Museum galleries each year, including the unique underground Reservoir gallery. Every attempt is made to provide excellent exhibition spaces for artists to showcase their work and to enrich the public's knowledge, understanding and appreciation of our cultural heritage and to reflect the full diversity of South African art.

The Reservoir[edit]

In the back garden an underground water reservoir, dating from the early 1900s, has been converted into a distinctive exhibition space after a chance discovery. During the planning phase of the African Carousel at Oliewenhuis Art Museum in 1994, a site plan of the back garden was requested from the Department of Public Works. An underground construction north of the main building was indicated on the plan; the only access to the area was via a manhole. On further investigation a large underground reservoir was discovered containing approximately half a metre of water. The transformation of the underground reservoir in the Museum garden into an exhibition space began in 1996 and the project was completed in November 2002. The Reservoir is used for temporary art exhibitions and is also a popular venue for weddings and other functions.


Oliewenhuis endeavours to promote the essential educational function that the arts play in the development of creative and intellectual abilities by means of exhibitions and associated walkabouts by artists and curators, lectures, workshops and guided tours. In an ongoing commitment to nurture and encourage the development of local artistic talent, the Museum hosts learning sessions for local artists, school groups, students and disadvantaged communities. Education services include access, by appointment, to the research library in the main building. This library offers a comprehensive collection of art books, art catalogues, DVDs, periodicals, news clippings and journals with a special emphasis on South African art.

The Terrace[edit]

The Terrace Restaurant & Coffee Shop, overlooking the Oliewenhuis gardens, is the ideal place to break away from everyday reality and stress. The menu offers a wide selection of dishes, from small light lunches to something more sustainable from the grill. The restaurant is fully licensed.

Walking Trails Oliewenhuis Art Museum is surrounded by 12 hectares of natural vegetation on Grant’s Hill and there are three marked walking trails through this tranquil, unspoilt area.

Fossilised Trees[edit]

Fossilised Glossopteris trees are abundant in the Senekal District of the Free State where a tree trunk was found during an Ecological Impact Assessment, conducted in an area intended for building construction. The 9-metre long, well-preserved fossil was recovered and donated to the National Museum, and is now displayed in front of Oliewenhuis Art Museum. This fossilised or petrified tree lived about 260 million years ago during the Middle to Late Permian Period.

Friends of Oliewenhuis Art Museum and Fractal[edit]

The Friends of Oliewenhuis is a voluntary association dedicated to supporting and enhancing the activities of the Museum. The Friends aim to find innovative ways to raise funds and to involve the entire community in the life and growth of the Art Museum so that all may benefit. Fractal is an ad hoc committee of the Friends of Oliewenhuis Art Museum, consisting of 3 – 10 executive members. It originated as a result of younger artists finding it increasingly difficult to make a living from the arts. The idea developed to try to promote the arts among the young people of Bloemfontein, and to involve them in productions, workshops and exhibitions. One of Fractal’s aims is to educate the general public and thus awaken in them the desire to preserve our national art museums. A love for art among the people is an investment for art in the future. Through Fractal’s activities, members are also gained for the Friends of Oliewenhuis Art Museum.

Oliewenhuis Art Museum is a satellite of the National Museum, Bloemfontein, an agency of the Department of Arts and Culture.


  • Floorplan and Site plan: Proposed New Residence for Governor General at Bloemfontein. Department of Public Works, 1941-1943.
  • Haasbroek, J. Desember 2000. Die Britse koningsbesoek aan Bloemfontein Maart 1947. Navorsinge van die Nasionale Museum, Bloemfontein 16(8).
  • Oliewenhuis-kunsmuseum Nuusbrief, Januarie - Maart 1990.
  • Schoeman, K. 1980. Bloemfontein. Die ontstaan van 'n stad 1846-1946. Kaapstad: Human & Rousseau.
  • The Friend, 15.04.1935; 5.11.1938; 3.10.1942; 17.10.1942; 11.12.1939; 8.03.1947 en 5.12.1972.
  • Volksblad, 5.12.1972 en 31.10.2002.
  • Vrystaatse Argiefbewaarplek: Argief van die Departement van Openbare Werke. DOW1/38. B8/6041.

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