Ethel May Dixie


Ethel Dixie was born at Sea Point, Cape Town. She was a freelance, largely self-taught botanical artist who was part of a circle of late Victorian and Edwardian women artists in Cape Town, including Emily and Florence Thwaits, all of  whom were interested in botanical art.

Miss Dixie came to prominence as the principal illustrator of Rudolf Marloth’s The Flora of South Africa, four volumes in six parts, 1913-1932. This work occupied her for several years and in this sense she is among the first professional botanical artists in South Africa whose work was specifically commissioned and paid for. Most of her paintings are a combination of gouache and watercolour on Windsor and Newton board, the gouache giving the work a rather dense, solid quality. Light background washes in pale grey or green to highlight the subject matter are a typically Victorian element in many of her images.

A folio of four of her paintings was published under the title Wild Flowers of the Cape of Good Hope, Janda Press, Cape Town, 1953.

She maintained a master set of four volumes depicting a broad range of favourite species of Cape flora from which she made numerous copies for admiring clients. The works on display here are early copies of selections from the master set, probably completed in about the 1930s or 1940s. Later copies produced in old age to raise funds for Avondrust Retirement Home in Rondebosch, where she lived until her death at 97,  are, understandably, less competently executed. Some are signed and dated as late as November 1965, by which time she was 89.

Her work is represented in several national and numerous private collections.

– John Rourke