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Barbara Pitt


‘I think the renewed interest in tracing the Aero Girls is wonderful and I'm very glad that I have this opportunity to be part of the research.”

Barbara Pitt at home in Cape Town, 2014. By permission of Barbara Pitt.

Barbara Pitt at home in Cape Town, 2014. By permission of Barbara Pitt.

“At the time of the Aero painting I was 17 years old, attending Goldsmiths College School of Art during my second year of a training diploma in Fine Art. I was living in Chelsea with my boyfriend, the well-known painter Adrian Ryan, who I later married at the age of 19 in September 1952.

I sat for quite a few well-known Chelsea artists between 1951 and 1957 but mainly for the painter Anthony Devas. His later portrait of me in 1957 (pictured), when I was 24 and pregnant with my second daughter, was exhibited the same year at the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition. Anthony was a dear friend. He unfortunately died in 1958 at the age of 47.

When Anthony was painting the Aero portrait I wasn't aware that it was being painted for an advert. When I was told, I was delighted, especially since he gave me an extra £100 to the usual modelling fee and a box of Aero chocolate. I was an impoverished art student at that point and was able, with with that money, to take three months special leave from Goldsmiths to study and explore Paris on my own. I was even more fortunate to be invited to be the travelling companion of a Greek shipping magnate's son - a young man, handsome to boot - called John Goulandris. We sailed via Cherbourg en route to the South of France, motoring through the French countryside to Paris. What an opportunity for a young art student who had never travelled beyond England before!

In Paris I frequented L'Académie de la Grande Chaumière, where for five francs I was able to spend my days drawing models of all types. I lived frugally on salad and soup at a cheap student café called Le Café des Beaux Arts and explored the left bank markets along the Seine.


“I was introduced to all the existentialist milieu of poets, dancers and writers who took me to the underground clubs and haunts of their coterie. My eyes were opened to amazing experiences, I will never forget.”

Chelsea in the fifties was a vibrant artist community. We regularly socialised in the pubs and clubs of the Kings Road and Worlds End area of Chelsea such as The White Hart, The Markham Arms, The Roebuck, The Kings Head & Eight Bells and The Cross Keys. The Chelsea Arts Club only admitted male members at that time. One evening as a daring prank, I was sneaked in dressed as a young chap, and got away with it undetected for the whole evening.

I was privileged in that era as a young ingénue artist to rub shoulders with the likes of my husband Adrian Ryan, Lucian Freud, Francis Bacon, Robert Beulah, Rodrigo Moynihan, Norman Hepple, Robert Colquhoun, Robert MacBryde, John Ward, John Minton and many others. It was a wonderful, exciting period in my youth.

My marriage ended in 1963 but we remained friends until Adrian died in 1998.

Barbara, by Anthony Devas, 1957. Oil on canvas. Devas estate.

Barbara, by Anthony Devas, 1957. Oil on canvas. Devas estate.

Photo of Barbara Pitt exhibited in Cape Performing Arts Board Theatre foyer, 1973. John Hill. By permission of Barbara Pitt.

Photo of Barbara Pitt exhibited in Cape Performing Arts Board Theatre foyer, 1973. John Hill. By permission of Barbara Pitt.

Barbara Pitt in London, 2009. By permission of Barbara Pitt.

Barbara Pitt in London, 2009. By permission of Barbara Pitt.

The Foundation School of Art

In 1965 I left the UK for Johannesburg, South Africa where I taught art privately, until 1971. I then relocated to Cape Town and established a private art school called The Foundation School of Art (FSA). The School's syllabus offered four-year fine art and graphic design diplomas in various disciplines, with external university examiners adjudicating.

The main thrust of my career focused on my passion for teaching art. The prominent artist and educator Judith Mason once said that “The Foundation School of Art is the best practical Art School in the country”, and wished that as a young student, she could have attended herself.

I was FSA principal and a senior fine art lecturer in painting and sculpture alongside the prominent artist Johann Louw. In 1990 I entered into a partnership with Delia Chaitman, a former mature student at FSA. Delia assisted me with the running of the school and taught on the first year fine art course. I also taught animation, stop frame, hand drawn filming on 16mm Bolex cameras. I launched this course after seeing the world famous South African artist William Kentridge giving a demonstration of Bolex camera animation.

My vision of teaching values was to expose students to a wide knowledge of 'mark-making' tools and media, equipping them to express their unique fingerprint, their own voice, whether making a simple statement or a profound essay.

In December 2000 I closed the FSA and retired at the age of 68. Nurturing some of today's established contemporary artists in Cape Town was a very rewarding experience. I am proud to have helped launch the careers of Jean-Pierre Meyer, Mario Sickle, Xolile Mtkatya, Tyrone Appolis, Jan du Toit and Mary-Rose Hendrikse.

FSA Prospectus Front Cover

Pitt on her own artwork

I like to work for my own satisfaction on aspects of things around me or on portraits of people whom I find interesting to paint or sculpt. I don't like having to sell my work for the sake of money. I would rather make a gift of a work to a friend who really loved that particular piece.

Vivien in Yellow Sou'wester, 1963. Barbara Pitt. By permission of the artist.
Photograph of Pitt's children Vivien and Scarlett, 1963. Barbara Pitt. By permission of the artist.
Polly reading, 1963. Barbara Pitt. By permission of the artist.
Winter afternoon - Farm labourer going home - Cornwall, 1963. Barbara Pitt. By permission of the artist.

Captions Left to Right:
Vivien in Yellow Sou'wester, 1963. Barbara Pitt. By permission of the artist.
Photograph of Pitt's children Vivien and Scarlett, 1963. Barbara Pitt. By permission of the artist.
Polly reading, 1963. Barbara Pitt. By permission of the artist.
Winter afternoon - Farm labourer going home - Cornwall, 1963. Barbara Pitt. By permission of the artist.

My choice of subject matter is not thematic. I occasionally have vivid mental images that prompt me to create an emotive work purely from my imagination, conveying an aspect or feeling of a situation such as serenity or frustration.

The Quick and the Dead (pictured) is a large two metre high drawing in graphite depicting the injustice of the apartheid era in South Africa. In 1994 it was exhibited in a gallery specialising in artworks dealing with the subject of apartheid.

At the time I also held free weekly art classes for underprivileged people at a community arts project institution in Cape Town.”

“I am in my 82nd year and enjoying making my own art. Now I can stop, smell the roses and potter in my studio happily painting.”

Barbara Pitt passed away in June 2016

Words by Barbara Pitt. Edited by Kerstin Doble.


The Quick and the Dead, 1983. Drawing on graphite. Barbara Pitt. By permission of the artist.

The Quick and the Dead, 1983. Drawing on graphite. Barbara Pitt. By permission of the artist.


  • Rossini Opera, Cinderella costume designs for Cape Performing Arts Board, 1963. Barbara Pitt
  • Rossini Opera, Cinderella costume design for Cape Performing Arts Board. The Ugly Sister, 1963. Barbara Pitt
  • Day dreaming - Alpha Omega, circa 1994. Barbara Pitt
  • Left: Anne Chaitman (mother of Delia Chaitman), 2000, Oil on canvas, 30x 15cm. Barbara Pitt.
    Right: Anne Chaitman (mother of Delia Chaitman), Bronze Head for 82nd Birthday, 1998. Barbara Pitt.
  • Lambs to the Slaughter Sarajevo, 1998, oil painting by ex-FSA student JP Meyer. Barbara Pitt collection
  • The Great Tycoon, 1994 bronze by ex-FSA student Jean Pierre Meershoek. Barbara Pitt collection.
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