The foundations of this red brick building in Commercial Road were laid in 1865 when the Supreme Court Sessions were still being held in the old Voortrekker Raadsaal (the site of the present city hall). The building was only completed in 1871. The court chambers were also used for meetings of the Legislative Council until it moved to their own chambers in Long Market Street in 1889. This fine example of Colonial architecture formed the central complex of the capital’s defensive system during the Zulu War of 1879. During 1989/1990 it was converted into the new Tatham Gallery, which is one of Africa’s foremost art galleries.
The General Collection
In 1903 Mrs F S Malan raised funds from interested citizens for the formation of a City Art Gallery. The Corporation also voted a sum of money for the purchase of pictures in England by Mrs Tatham. These purchases include several fine examples of Victorian painting.
In 1962 Mrs E K Lorimer, Director of the Port Elizabeth Art Gallery, was invited to reorganise the Pietermaritzburg Art Gallery. Badly deteriorated paintings or works by artists, whose reputations had not stood the test of time, were sold and the proceeds set-aside for future acquisitions. These acquisitions have helped fill gaps in the collections and include examples of more recent French and British art. The French and British sections are complimented by a selection of International Graphic Works and a South African Collection.
In 1823 Lieutenant-Colonel Robert H Whitwell, an English art connoisseur, presented the City with a valuable collection of paintings, graphic art and drawings. Specimens of glassware, porcelain and oriental rugs were also included. The collection is predominantly British of the period known as La Belle Epogue and gives a general survey of the best trends in British art from about 1880 to 1920. There are examples of British portrait and landscape paintings the 18th and 19th centuries as well as the Barbizon School of landscape painters or artists influenced by them. The impressionists, of whom the Sisley is an outstanding example, represent the French.