John Dronsfield

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John Dronsfield (1900-1951) was a graphic artist, poet, painter, composer and stage designer. (Also known as John Marsden Dronsfield)


Born John Marsden Dronsfield, in Lancashire, England and studied briefly at Manchester Art School. Otherwise he was mainly self-taught. In 1918 he enlisted in Young Soldiers' Battalion of the Cheshire Regiment and was discharged in 1919 as physically unfit.

His stage design career began in 1923, with Sybil Thorndike and he then worked in London as a stage-designer and advertising artist for the next 16 years.

In 1939 he emigrated to settle in Cape Town, South Africa where he built a reputation as an imaginative stage-designer for ballet and straight drama, and continued working as author and graphic artist, with his first one-man art exhibition taking place in Cape Town in the very year of his arrival, followed inter alia by an Overseas Exhibition of South African Art, at the Tate Gallery(1948) and the Venice Biennale (1950). Two Memorial Exhibitions were held for him: South African National Art Gallery, Cape Town (1955) and the Wolpe Gallery, Cape Town (1967).

He and his partner, the arts critic and author Denis Hatfield, kept a kind of open house for artists and worked closely together in the 1940s, particularly on his publications. His published art work and poetry include: Non-Europeans Only : Thirty-six Drawings by John Dronsfield in 1942 The Work of John Dronsfield edited by Denis Hatfield (Johannesburg: SA Architectural Record, 1944); and posthumously, Satires and Verses by John Dronsfield, edited by Denis Hatfield Bullough (Oxford/New York: Oxford University Press, 1955) and two portfolios of reproductions of his graphic studies, entitled African Improvisations.

He was a member of the International Art Club, South Africa and his work is held by a large number of public art collections.

Sadly he committed suicide in 1951.

Contribution to South African theatre, film, media and performance

Between 1945 – 1948 Dronsfield worked as designer with Gwen ffrangçon-Davies and Marda Vanne on theatrical productions which would make a major contribution to the development of theatre in South Africa. He also wrote incidental music for The Merry Wives of Windsor, as well as designing the costumes, set and decor.


Shaun Viljoen. 2013. Richard Rive: A Partial Biography (Wits University Press)

Berman Esmé. 1994. Art & Artists of South Africa. Cape Town: Southern Book Publishers.

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