Charles Davidson Bell


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Charles Davison Bell

A versatile and talented artist, Charles Bell also mastered the art of wood-carving and wood-engraving

Housed in the University of Cape Town’s Special Collections are the paintings of Charles Davidson Bell (1813 – 1882). This collection is the property of The John and Charles Bell Heritage Trust, which was established in 1975 by Professor Charles Manning, a grandson of Charles Davidson Bell by his second wife, Helena Krynauw.

Charles Davidson Bell was born in Scotland, and arrived at the Cape in 1830, at the invitation of his uncle, Colonel John Bell, who was then Colonial Secretary. The young man sketched local Cape Town scenes and personalities with a humorous and perceptive eye. At the age of twenty-one, he joined Dr Andrew Smith’s “Expedition for Exploring Central Africa” with the task of keeping a pictorial diary of the expedition by sketching the landscapes and the indigenous peoples they encountered.

After his return from this expedition, Bell worked in various government departments and in 1838 he commenced in the survey department, becoming, in 1848, Surveyor-General of the Cape.

A versatile and talented artist, Charles Bell also mastered the art of wood-carving and wood-engraving, and was the designer of the Cape triangular postage stamp and of various coats of arms, including those of the South African College and the Old Mutual Insurance Company.

The collection at UCT contains some of the paintings from the Smith expedition, and other sketches, as well as a series of more than fifty sketches of incidents and places in the seventh Frontier War, some of which were published in the London Illustrated News.

In addition to the art of Charles Bell, the collection also includes sketches by other members of the Bell family, as well as correspondence and other personal papers of the family.