The South African
Military History Society

Die Suid-Afrikaanse Krygshistoriese Vereniging

Military History Journal
Vol 9 No 5 - June 1994

(incorporating Museum Review)


by A Sinclair

A recent acquisition to the South African National Museum of Military History in Saxonwold, Johannesburg, is a portrait by the artist Edward Roworth. The painting portrays Field Marshal J C Smuts seated on board an aircraft looking out over the battlefields of Libya in North Africa.

This portrait is very similar to an official British photograph located in the photographic collection at the Museum. The note accompanying this photograph states: 'Field Marshal Smuts visited the Middle East again on his return home from London in 1942. He flew over the battle area and visited South African forces in the field. The photograph shows Smuts in the Lockheed Hudson in which he made his desert tour.'(1)

First photo

Official British photograph: Smuts flying over the Western Desert in a Lockheed Hudson 1942.
[SANMMH Official photograph CM 3955]

Second photo

Portrait: Field Marshal Smuts over the Libyan Battlefield, 1942,
Artist: E Roworth.
[SANMMH Official Military Art Collection, Cat No 3682]

The portrait was purchased by the Museum from the estate of the late MrJ H Stodel of Cape Town. During the First World War (1914-1918), Mr Stodel was a cavalry scout in the Allied forces under the then General Smuts in the East African Campaign. After the conclusion of the Second World War (1939-1945), he came into possession of this painting through an association with a dealer in artworks.(2)

Edward Roworth (1880-1964) was a famous portrait artist in South Africa during the first half of the twentieth century. In 1909 he was tasked to paint the National Convention portraying the thirty-three delegates who assembled to plan the formation of the Union of South Africa. On completion, the painting was displayed at Buckingham Palace from 1911 to 1912 from where it was moved to the South African Houses of Parliament in Cape Town. In 1934 Roworth was also commissioned to undertake six panels for South Africa House in London.(3)

It is uncertain whether Roworth was on board the aircraft with Smuts' party or whether the portrait was painted from a photograph. Another photograph in the Museum's collection, which is also included in this article, depicts Smuts seated in the exact same position looking out of the porthole as he is seen in the portrait.(4) It is possible that Roworth was on board and photographed Smuts to undertake a portrait at a later stage.

The portrait is currently part of the J C Smuts display located in the Brink Hall at the Museum.


1. South African National Museum of Military History, Official Photographic Collection, No CM 3955.
2. Interview: Mr H Stodel, 9 October 1993.
3. F Berman, Art and Artists of South Africa (Cape Town, A A Balkema, 1970), PP 253-4.
4. South African National Museum of Military History, Official Photographic Collection, No E 1744.

Third photo

The photograph upon which the portrait may have been based.
[SANMMH Official Photograph E 1744]

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