This Cape Town Hotel Has Museum-Worthy Art Collection—Here’s a Look Inside

There’s perhaps no better place in Cape Town to take in a dazzling sunset than at Ellerman House: The gardens of the stately 13-room villa, presiding over a cliff in Bantry Bay, are perfectly positioned to take in the sun’s last rays as they cast a golden glow over the Atlantic. But even when your gaze is transfixed by the horizon, the eye keeps getting distracted—by the cheetah cast in bronze standing guard next to the pool, or a larger-than-life re-creation of a woman’s face gazing out over the waves.

Ellerman House
Ellerman House

These sculptures, by celebrated South African masters Dylan Lewis and Lionel Smit, barely scratch the surface of what lies within the hotel’s walls. “What makes Ellerman House so different from other hotels is this art collection—it’s extremely significant,” says Talita Swarts, owner and founder of Artroute, which designs custom tours of galleries, studios, and art exhibitions in Cape Town and Johannesburg. Swarts has been guiding guests of Ellerman House through its staggering 1,000 works for more than a decade—what started as the occasional private tour a few times a year has now resulted in her team typically offering two per day, as visitors become more and more curious about the masterpieces that surround them.

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One of Cape Town’s most exclusive addresses—only hotel guests can cross the threshold, and when they do, they have free rein over the mansion, complete with access to a pantry stocked with cakes and sweets at any hour of the day—Ellerman House is the passion project of South African financier Paul Harris. His other passion is South African art, and the hotel doubles as a showcase for just a fraction of the works he’s been diligently amassing for decades. The result is one of the most impressive private art collections in South Africa—and one that’s only accessible to those who check in.

The stairwell at Ellerman House
The stairwell at Ellerman House

Tours typically begin in the elegant library, where Swarts discusses the country’s complex colonial history and the range of creative influences that converged over the centuries. Some of the oldest pieces in the collection line a hallway around the corner: sketches by Edmund Pink, oil paintings by Thomas Bowler, and a depiction of Camps Bay beach and the iconic Twelve Apostles mountain range by Jan Volshenk. The central staircase doubles as a portrait gallery, lined with works by Irma Stern, the most valuable South African artist for collectors today, and Gerard Sekoto, the most well-known Black Modernist painter. Lounge areas and dining rooms carry milestone works by Alexis Preller, Walter Battiss, and Jacob Pierneef, among others.

The hotel's contemporary art gallery
The hotel’s contemporary art gallery

These atmospheric halls may offer a fascinating history lesson for guests curious about South Africa’s past, but Harris is also a patron of contemporary South African artists who shine a light on the country’s vibrant present. Stepping outside into the gardens, walking past Smit’s and Lewis’s works, you’ll find a sculpture by the renegade Beezy Bailey—“He’s our prankster,” says Swarts—pointing the way toward Ellerman House’s contemporary art gallery. “You can do a three-hour tour just in the contemporary gallery alone,” says Swarts, and it’s easy to see why: The long, narrow space is brimming with sculptures, paintings, and mixed-media works by a dizzying array of iconic and emerging South African talents, including William Kentridge, Norman Catherine, Kimathi Mafafo, and more.

Every visit to Cape Town should include stops at the celebrated Zeitz MOCAA museum and the city’s vibrant art galleries—but Ellerman House serves as the ultimate primer to the country’s creative landscape. “This is really a crazy collection for a hotel—this should be in a museum,” says Swarts. “We really rely on collections like these to keep our art safe and in South Africa.”

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