Strauss & Co’s single-artist sale of works by JH Pierneef affirms his premium status

13 Jul 2022

Not even an unpredictable national electricity grid could deter collectors from pursuing the 71 lots in Strauss & Co’s single-artist sale of works by the much-loved landscape painter J. H. Pierneef.

Titled JH Pierneef: En Route, the career-spanning sale saw all but one lot find buyers and achieved a grand total of R20 million. The top-selling work was a late-career painting from 1954 depicting a building in Mbweni, a town on the main island of Zanzibar, sold to a telephone bidder for R3.2 million.

“The strong results produced by this much-anticipated follow up to our 2021 single-artist auction devoted to Pierneef underscore the importance of asset class and brand,” says Susie Goodman, an executive director at Strauss & Co. “Interest in Pierneef is in the ascendency, not just in South Africa but in various international markets. The collecting circle has grown. There was strong bidding for several lots. For an auctioneer, it is a dream to see competitive bidding as the market dictates the price.”

Organised around the theme of travel, JH Pierneef: En Route yielded solid results for sellers. An early oil from 1917 oil depicting Van der Hoven’s Drift in Pretoria sold for R2.6 million, well above the high estimate. A Namibian scene from 1936 depicting the Erongo Mountains at the close of day saw two telephone bidders vie for the work, which also achieved R2.6 million. Six paintings surpassed the important R1-million threshold.

JH Pierneef: En Route also included representative examples of Pierneef’s etchings, linocuts, drawings, watercolours and caseins, as well as a fine selection of reference books. Collector demand was pronounced across all these media, with noteworthy prices achieved for his linocuts. A 1935 linocut depicting an indigenous bushwillow, Hardekoolboom, TVL (Nilant 74), sold for R125 180. A 1930 linocut portraying the harbour at Hermanus, Vissershawe, Hermanus (Nilant 5), fetched R159 320.

“We had nearly 500 people following the auction,” says Strauss & Co’s art department head Dr. Alastair Meredith, conceptualiser and specialist in charge of JH Pierneef: En Route. “The wonderful outcome of this sale showed the importance of more obvious access points in terms of pricing and range across different media. The singular focus of the sale also provided context for collectors to understand Pierneef’s deep interest in travel and evolving development as an artist.”

Well known for his painterly depictions of South Africa’s northern interior, collectors vied for Soutpansberg, an undated oil on board depicting a highveld landscape framed by trees, which sold for R1.3 million. Shingwedzi, Kruger Wildtuin, a late work from 1955 made in the year before the artist’s death in the Kruger National Park, sold for R1.7 million. Pierneef reference books achieved commanding prices. Two leather-bound collectors’ editions of PG Nel’s edited volume JH Pierneef: His Life and His Work (1990) achieved R14 070 and R11 725.

A recent report on the African art market issued by London-based research firm ArtTactic places Pierneef amongst the top ten African artists sold at auction between 2016 and 2021. Pierneef earned $12.9 million from 361 lots, much of that volume handled in South Africa by Strauss & Co.