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Sunday, November 29, 2015


Each image is a delight and collectively they make a charming whole. (Review by Caroline Smart)

The late Ronald Cohen (1936–2007) grew up in Bloemfontein and qualified as an architect in Johannesburg before emigrating to the UK. He pursued a successful career in London, in both architecture and interior design, while painting at every opportunity. He travelled widely, producing a rich body of work from innumerable holiday destinations.

However, Cape Town fulfilled his senses. He was inspired by “the clarity of the light, the expansive golden beaches, the granite rocks and the sparkling sea. There is this amazing melange of different styles of buildings reflecting different cultures and periods, the diversity of the flora and, of course, the dramatic backdrop of Table Mountain – a thrilling presence at any time of the day.”

It is acknowledged that Cohen’s best work emanated from this city and Penguin Random Struik have assembled 25 of his watercolours of Cape Town’s iconic scenes, loose leaf, on A3-sized, high-quality thick art paper, ready to be framed or displayed.

Accompanying the prints is an informative booklet with Cohen’s interesting descriptions of each print. The prints themselves aren’t identified so a pencilled reference from the booklet on the back of each print would help preserve each one’s identity.

There is a strong collection of Cape Town’s impressive number of different-styled mosques – particularly the Quawatul Mosque (often called the “Indian” mosque) with its minaret soaring against the backdrop of the mountain and the Al Azhar Mosque in District Six.

Also featured are the twin-towered Great Synagogue in Government Avenue Gardens which was designed in the brand Baroque Style. Then there’s the Strand Street Lutheran Church, a building created by a wealthy merchant as a “warehouse” where he allowed members of his church to practise their religion in secret. Until 1780, the Dutch Reformed Church was the only recognised church in Cape Town.

Most of Cape Town is built on the hillside and Cohen depicts this in an image from the point of view of the pedestrian facing a long line of steps going down to Clifton Beach. Then there’s the Biskoptrappies – seen from the beach level zigzagging and soaring up the hill. I’d have to hire a helicopter to get me to the top!

He has painted the many different styles of houses – from Green Point Terrace and Upper Buitengracht Street to tho Bo-Kaap Cottages and Chiappini Street in the Malay Quarter.

When describing the beautiful Hatfield Road, Cohen urges the Cape Town city fathers to ensure that proper legislation provides protection against the forces of re-development, warning that unless greater understanding and critical appreciation is applied, streetscapes such as this will be lost.

Each image is a delight and collectively they make a charming whole. Apart from a fascinating collection in itself, it would be a wonderful reminder for visitors or overseas tourists to the city – and is easily transportable in a suitcase on the flight back home.

Cape Town – A Study In Watercolours is published by Penguin Random House ISBN: 978 1 77584 293 4 | RRP: R230. – Caroline Smart