I've returned recently to research on artists working within archaeology, specifically women artists. This is a topic I've been gathering information on for a number of years, bolstered by my acquisition of a second-hand copy of Jessie Mothersole's Hadrian's Wall. To my surprise and delight when I opened the book for the first time I saw that it included a nearly century-old an invitation to an exhibition of her original artwork (you can read that here).
Winifred Brunton is another archaeological artist I've been researching. She was slightly younger than Jessie Mothersole, but was exhibiting her work at around the same time, and sometimes on the same street and in the same exhibition. I've discussed the work Brunton, Mothersole and other women artists in archaeology displayed at the Royal Academy Summer exhibitions here (thanks to the excellent resource that is chronicle250.com), but in this post I want to delve a bit more deeply into Brunton as a working artist before she came to Britain.*
Winifred Brunton was born Winifred Newberry in South Africa in 1880. Her father Charles was a wealthy landowner and developer who had come to South Africa from Britain and married Elizabeth Mary Daniel, the South-African born daughter of a Wesleyan missionary. Their marriage certificate indicates that, at the time of their marriage, Charles Newberry already had acquired shares in the Kimberley Diamond Mine, tying him firmly into the colonial exploitation of the region's mineral wealth, and the people who mined there.
Brunton grew up at the family estate at Prynnsberg, near Clocolan in the Orange Free State, which had been formally incorporated into the British Empire at the close of the 2nd Boer War in 1902. During her early years in South Africa, the area in which she grew up was known first as the Orange Free State, then the Orange River Colony annexed to Britain, and then incorporated, as the province of Orange Free State, into the Union of South Africa, a British dominion created in 1910. The British administration established a Land settlement scheme in 1901, which saw over 500 settlers acquire land there by the end of the scheme in 1912.
Winifred Newberry married Guy Brunton in South Africa in 1906, when she was 26. Born in England, Guy Brunton had come to South Africa, presumably, for work. In 1911 it was reported that he was serving on the Board of Charles Newberry's "Newberry (Orange River) Estates Ltd", which was undertaking irrigation works in the region to make the land more agriculturally productive – and profitable.
Winifred, meanwhile, living with her husband in Berea, a residential suburb of the fast-evolving city of Johannesburg (Transvaal Province), was starting to bring her art to public notice as part of the emerging South African National Union. This organisation was established to provide a platform for "South African" products, including fine and decorative art. In 1910, she was helping to organise an Arts & Crafts exhibition, at which her miniatures were on display (and for which she won a prize).
A year later, her design for postage stamps for the new Union (bringing together the previously separate and independent provinces in South Africa) also received a prize.* By the end of 1911, Winifred and Guy Brunton were in London embarking on studies in Egyptology at UCL, and Winifred continued to develop a successful career as an artist, as well as an excavator. The move to London connected the Bruntons more firmly to another part of Britain's expansive Empire – Egypt, which had been occupied by Britain in 1882 and would be annexed by the end of 1914. They remained attached to Egypt as excavators and residents for several decades before returning again to South Africa.
Winifred Brunton's Egyptian paintings and excavations remain the most visible of her long career, but her beginnings in art and empire in South Africa are, I think, of equal significance.
*Sadly, it appears that none of the prize-winning designs submitted for this competition actually became stamps.
Brown, A. Samler and Brown, George (Eds.). 1915. The Guide to South and East Africa for the use of tourists, sportsmen, invalids and settlers. (21st edn). London: Sampson Low, Marston & Co.
Cape Times, 1911. Orange River Irrigation. A Big Scheme. 23 Sept: 10.
Mafeking Mail and Protectorate Guardian, 1909. South African National Union. 30 Aug.
National Museum Publications, 2020. Experience ancient Egypt through the Collections of an Egyptologist.
Rand Daily Mail, 1910. Arts & Crafts Exhibition. One Great Success. 29 March.
Rand Daily Mail, 1911. Gazette Gleanings. 1 June: 2.
Stevenson, Alice. 2014. Camden, Cairo and the Cape. UCL Culture blog.