Fine and interesting examples of paintings and decorative arts of special relevance to the Cape are to be found in the William Fehr Collection. Contained in the collection is a wealth of historical information concerning the peoples and landscapes of early colonial South Africa. It is one of the most important public collections of artefacts of the period.
The William Fehr Collection is exhibited at the Castle of Good Hope and Rust en Vreugd, both historic buildings. The Castle, Cape Town’s oldest building, houses the component of oil paintings, furniture and decorative arts. Rust en Vreugd, a very fine example of colonial eighteenth century urban architecture, houses the art on paper – prints, drawings and watercolours. The artefacts including the art works date from the late seventeenth to the early nineteenth century, the period of Dutch colonial settlement and, after 1795, the era of British occupation. The art works in particular constitute a uniquely rich and important resource for many aspects of the history of the period.
The collection reflects the outlook and aesthetics of a single collector, William Fehr (1892–1968), and his social context, and so differs from most museum collections that are the result of selection by museum staff over an extended period. William Fehr’s private collection was first displayed at the Castle in 1952 during the Van Riebeeck Tercentenary Festival. Here a large proportion remained on loan until the whole collection was acquired by the South African government in the years 1964–5 and then distributed between the Castle and Rust en Vreugd. The portion of the collection at Rust en Vreugd was presented by William Fehr as a gift to the nation.