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As you drive out of Hout Bay and begin the trip over Chapman’s Peak towards Cape Point, you may catch a glimpse of a green-tinged statue perched on a large granite boulder just off shore. On closer inspection you will see that it’s a bronze sculpting of a seated leopard looking out towards Hout Bay beach and you may ask: who placed it there and why?
Ivan Mitford-Barberton was a renowned artist born in the Eastern Cape and who lived much of his later years in Cape Town. He was responsible for a number of statues in and around the city and specialised in bronze and stone sculpting, his subject matter mostly animal figures, human statues and busts. He also taught at the highly acclaimed Michaelis School of Art in Cape Town. In 1963, Mitford-Barberton agreed to cast a statue of a leopard in honour of the animal who had by this time been lost to the area. The last leopard sighted here was killed off in in the late 1930s. These animals were once prevalent in the area, helping to control the baboon population but today we only have the sculpture as a stark reminder.
The American soda company Pepsi-Cola donated the brass for the sculpture and Mitford-Barberton his time and skills in order to create the Hout Bay Leopard. The final product weighed close to 300kg and was created at a height of 1.4m. It is highly detailed, however, on most days it’s tainted white thanks to countless seagulls using the statue as a lookout post and leaving behind their droppings. Locals occasionally sponsor the costs of a cleaning.
Ironically, Ivan Mitford-Barberton’s father Henry escaped a mauling by a leopard in his young adult days.