This previously unknown picture is an important addition to I'ons' recorded early work. There is another smaller (oil on board, 31.6 x 38.3cm.) signed version in a private collection, Port Elizabeth, for which see L. Alexander, Frederick I'Ons Retrospective Exhibition, Port Elizabeth, 1990, no. 49, and an unsigned version, of similar size ('oil on wood', 45 x 60cm.) is in the William Fehr Collection, Cape Town for which see J.J. Redgrave and E. Bradlow, Frederick I'Ons Artist, Cape Town, 1958, p.59 and illustrated in colour facing p.38. This latter version was re-attributed to W.H. Langschmidt by Bradlow (F.R. Bradlow, Africana Books and Pictures, Cape Town, 1975, pp.110-11) on the grounds that it was once owned by Langschmidt and because Langschmidt was recorded as having exhibited 'Interior of a canteen, a copy from I'Ons' picture' (item 211) at the First Fine Arts Exhibition held in Cape Town in 1851. A signed copy of I'Ons' picture by Langschmidt (Stephan Welz & Co., Johannesburg, 2 May 1988, lot 120, oil on canvas, 47 x 61cm. and dated 1849, and differing from the versions by I'Ons with the inclusion of a gourd, hat, bone and satchel on the floor in the foreground) may however be Langschmidt's copy exhibited in 1851 (as suggested in the Welz catalogue). The Fehr picture might accordingly now be returned to I'Ons. The latter, once owned by Langschmidt, may therefore have been the model for Langschmidt's copy.
Of I'Ons' other versions of this subject, the picture exhibited in 1990, from the collection of Mrs van der Riet, Grahamstown, and subsequently owned by F.W.M. Bowker, Grahamstown, was titled 'Canteen Interior, Dancing Hotentots and bartender' by Redgrave and E. Bradlow in Frederick I'Ons, Artist, Cape Town, 1958, p.57 and 'Interior, dancing Hottentots (Khoikhoi) and bartender/Canteen scene' by Alexander in the 1990 exhibition catalogue, Alexander noting that 'This scene was painted at Potter's Inn, situated on the corner of Hill and New Streets, Grahamstown' (p.23). The William Fehr Collection picture was titled 'Canteen Scene, Potter's Inn, Grahamstown' by Redgrave and E. Bradlow (1958, p.59) -- these identifications of the tavern as Potter's Inn problematic, and probably incorrect as the view out of the south door would look onto houses and the cathedral rather than the hills we see here -- 'Canteen scene during the Frontier Wars. Hottentots dancing and members of the Cape Mounted Rifles and Imperial Troops enjoying the spectacle' by W. Fehr in Treasures at the Castle of Good Hope, Cape Town, 1963 (revised edition 1978, p.37, no.21) and 'Canteen Scene in Eastern Province' by F.R. Bradlow (1975, p.111).
Langschmidt's copy (Welz, 1988) was discovered in Switzerland and called 'Cape Brandy' -- and this, rather than the Fehr picture, would have been the copy under the title 'Interior of a canteen, a copy from I'Ons' picture' exhibited in Cape Town in 1851.
There are a handful of similar tavern interiors by I'Ons, albeit smaller and less detailed than the present picture. These include 'Hottentots dancing in the basement of old hotel in New Street, Grahamstown' (25.4 x 30.5cm.), Redgrave and E. Bradlow, 1958, p.71 (collection of Mrs F.C. Nevins White, Grahamstown), '[Xhosa] Frolic' ('oil on wood' 20.7 x 29cm.), Alexander, 1990, p.23, no. 50 (collection of the South African National Gallery, SANG 739) and 'Canteen scene, Eastern Province' (oil on board, 32 x 38cm.), Stephan Welz, 2 August 1993, lot 75 (repeating some of the figures in the present picture).
The present picture is an almost identical version by I'Ons of his picture in the Fehr collection, varying only in the position of the broken jar or bottle on the tiles on the floor in the foreground, and is titled as Fehr titled his version, now at the Castle. This title correctly identifies the soldiers who include the Cape Mounted Rifleman in distinctive black uniform and shako, and 'Imperial Troops', probably from a cavalry regiment, as identified by the frogging on the jacket of the soldier leaning against the bar in the right foreground.