Matabele man, c. 1895
W. Rausch of Bulawayo
A silver gelatin print showing a smiling Matabele man posed with a cigar in one hand and a bow in the other in the photographer’s studio against a painted backdrop. A companion photograph exists, clearly taken on the same occasion, which shows the same man posed with a bottle and a glass The rocks, tree branches and large pottery vessel are presumably supposed to add some verisimilitude to the otherwise jarringly inauthentic scene.
The area known by Europeans in the nineteenth century as Matabeleland now comprises the western provinces of Zimbabwe, with its major city Bulwayo treated as a separate metropolitan province. Its people, then known by Europeans as the Matabele, were the Ndebele, were originally an offshoot of the Nguni people of Natal who migrated north in the 1820s. The British South Africa Company, a mercantile enterprise based in London, established itself in the region in 1890. The Matabele were defeated by the British in the First Matabele War (1893-94) and shortly afterwards the region was divided by the British South Africa Company into two provinces, Matabeleland in the west and Mashonaland (the traditional homeland of the Shona people) in the east. The Matabele Rebellion of 1896-97, also known as the Second Matabele War, failed completely and the Ndebele and Shona people remained subjects of the Rhodes administration. In 1923 Matabeleland became part of self-governing South Rhodesia and part of independent Zimbabwe in 1980.
Photographed by W. Rausch of Bulawayo.
By the middle of the 1890s, the photographer W. Rausch had established a studio in Bulawayo on Abercorn Street opposite the Bank of Africa, where, according to advertisements he placed in local newspapers, ‘All kinds of photographic work undertaken – groups photographed in town or country’ (Bulawayo Sketch, 21 November 1896). He also offered for sale ‘native’ portraits, photographic Christmas cards, and albums depicting the principal streets and buildings of Bulawayo.
Condition: the print is in excellent condition, with very good tonal range.
Dimensions: the print measures 8.1” by 5.9” (20.5 cm by 15 cm) and is mounted on a slightly larger piece of cut-down album page that has been neatly separated from its reverse side by a professional conservator.