Lee-Ann Heath – Bloom Bloom Mountain, oil on canvas, 140 x 200cm

For all its attractions and its significant position in the minds of South Africans, Knysna remains a small town, with a small-town economy in which running a business is a difficult and sometimes a fraught affair – so there’s much to celebrate when a local company reaches a significant milestone like a quarter of a century in business.

Knysna Fine Art was established in 1998 by Trent Read, a fifth-generation art dealer who had previously worked in Johannesburg, London and San Antonio. Trent is the son of the doyen of South African art dealers, Everard Read.

“The decision to move to Knysna was an easy one,” said Trent. “It was just after ‘94, we had a new country, and my son had just been born. I’d spent my childhood summer holidays in Knysna, and I  wanted my children to grow up in this kind of environment rather than in the shopping malls of Johannesburg.  “It’s still the best decision I’ve made.”

Trent opened the doors of Knysna Fine Art in a restored woodworker’s shop on Gray Street – a small, gabled building that he converted into a light-filled, three-roomed space that brought a new concept to Knysna: the finest contemporary art shown in fresh, uncluttered exhibitions designed to showcase the works at their best.

Trent is passionate about developing new talent, and from the beginning, devoted Knysna Fine Art to showing the works of young people who are themselves passionate about making art – alongside established artists whose works would belong in any fine gallery, anywhere in the world.

After the property that housed the Gray Street gallery was sold for development, Trent moved to another space further up the road – “which I hated” – and then finally, about ten years ago, into his present premises in the historic Thesen House.

To mark the 25th anniversary, he has now taken over additional space in the building, bringing the total floorspace of the gallery to 900 square metres – making it the largest contemporary gallery in the Western Cape.

Although it’s an autonomous business, Knysna Fine Art works closely with Trent’s family business, the Everard Read Group, which has galleries in Johannesburg, Franschhoek, London and Cape Town, and with others such as the new Gallery at Steyn City.

Trent and the Gallery’s curator, Corlie de Kock, consult to museums as well as corporate and private collectors both in South Africa and abroad, and offer expert advice on selection of pieces, and on the care and maintenance of collections. They also consult to architects and designers on the design of exhibition spaces, and they value art for insurance and probate purposes.

Trent and Corlie work closely as a team. Said Trent; “Our aesthetics are very similar in many ways, and for the first time in my life, I don’t have to worry about the aesthetics of the gallery – I can go away and come back and know it will look good.”

Trent devotes much of his time to the artists he represents, and takes delight in watching them grow in their chosen disciplines. He cites two examples in Lucinda Mudge and Phillemon Hlungwani.

“Lucinda is a ceramicist who’s come a long way – a local girl whose work is now in the Guggenheim in Bilbao – while Phillemon came from a tiny village in Limpopo and, with the help of training at the Johannesburg Art Foundation (where he learned from people like Kentridge and Simon Stone) has become a world-leading artist.

“No where in the world are people working with his kind of expertise,” said Trent. Asked about highlights of his time in Knysna, Trent said that surviving at all is a highlight in itself.

“The art market is tough, and the art market in Knysna is even tougher: it hasn’t been an easy journey. That we are still here and that we’re growing is the great success story – very few galleries last this long. I ascribe this to the quality of the artists and to some fabulous, loyal, and knowledgeable collectors and clients.

“But it would be invidious to pick out any individual artists or exhibitions as highlights – we’ve seen so many gorgeous things come through our doors.” He said that the market is currently, “surprisingly buoyant. “The rand plays an important role because foreigners are a big part of our market, and we export a large number of works every year – but it shouldn’t be forgotten that local artists punch way above their weight when it comes to sophistication and quality,” and – importantly since sculpture forms a large proportion of the Gallery’s turnover – “our local (South African) foundries put out a level of product you can’t easily replicate.”

The Gallery often plays the role that museums would play in larger centres – a role that’s unusual for commercial galleries.

During October, Knysna Fine Art is hosting Willem Boshoff’s ‘Blind Alphabet’ installation, which is part of the matric art syllabus.

“It’s an astonishing work where the captions on the artefacts are made in Braille, rather than in plain text – or, as Boshoff puts it on his website (willemboshoff.com), it “enables English-speaking blind people to reverse the pattern and guide the sighted in the privileged environment of the art gallery.”

“This will be the first in a series of wonderful installations loaned by a major collector,” said Trent. “We want the gallery to be used by the community as the resource it is – it’s fun, hopefully challenging, sometimes disturbing, and always free. “

On the 23rd of November 2023, Knysna Fine Art will be opening a its 25th Anniversary Exhibition and hosting a huge party to celebrate its birthday – another milestone in “the slow and steady grind and exponential growth” of one of the country’s most beloved art institutions.


Knysna Fine Art- Classical Space




Angela Banks, Dark Night Courting, oil on canvas, 150 x 120cm


Norman O’Flynn, Portrait of the Klein Karoo, Acrylic paint and plexiglass, 95 x 80cm


Liza Grobler – Diepkyk, beads, 165 x 165cm


Caryn Scrimgeour, The one that got away, oil on linen,50 x 75 cm


Margot Rudolph, Balanced Duality, ceramic 70 cm height


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