Live Auction, 12 November 2018

Sold for

R 4 552 000
Lot 291
Jacob Hendrik Pierneef; Cinnamon Mill, Seychelles

Lot Estimate
R 4 000 000 - 5 000 000
Selling Price
Incl. Buyer's Premium and VAT
R 4 552 000

About this Item

South African 1886-1957
Cinnamon Mill, Seychelles
signed and dated 1954
oil on canvas
65,5 by 86cm excluding frame


After finishing a large-scale painting commissioned by the Pretoria City Council to commemorate the city’s centenary, Pierneef took a well-deserved holiday in the Seychelles between August and November 1954. Pierneef, and his second wife, May, had visited the island once before on their way back from Europe and England in 1926, when they travelled via the Mediterranean down the east coast of Africa, visiting such habour cities as Dar es Salaam, Mombassa and Lourenço Marques (now Maputo).

The Seychelles held a special allure for Pierneef. His first mentor and instructor, Frans Oerder, had travelled along the same coast as early as 1903, and he had no doubt told the young Pierneef about the exoticism of East Africa. Many years later, Pierneef, in turn, advised a very troubled Alexis Preller to seek refuge in the Seychelles. Preller stayed a number of months between 1948 and 1949, and visited Zanzibar as well.

Pierneef was not impressed with the luscious verdancy of the tropical islands, however. He wrote to his friends, the Lion Cachets: ‘The Seychelles has disappointed me a little as far as the landscape is concerned, everything is very green, apart from the few little bulls and cows.’1 He nevertheless went on to say that the old houses and narrow streets of the islands were very suitable painting subjects, and he made numerous sketches to be used later in fully developed paintings in his studio. One minutelydetailed sketch of the scene depicted in the present lot has survived, and is presently part of the Ditsong South African National Cultural History Museum collection in Pretoria.

What is striking about this painting, Cinnamon Mill, is its unusual style. It employs what Esmé Berman calls a ‘post-impressionist style’.2 In this regard, one is reminded of the work of Paul Gauguin, who lived for the last part of his life on exotic islands: Martinique, Tahiti, and eventually, the Marquessa, or Polynesian islands.

The second, most striking aspect of the present lot, is the fact that the title, Cinnamon Mill, evokes a sense of smell! Pierneef wrote the title in Afrikaans, Kaneelmeul, on the preparatory sketch in pencil. One can almost smell the exotic spice drifting lazily through the air, mingling with the smoke from the mill and getting entangled in the blue and purple clouds and mountains in the background.

1 Estelle Pretorius (1990). ‘Biography of Jacob Hendrik Pierneef’, in PG Nel (ed.) JH Pierneef: His Life and his Work. Cape Town: Perskor.

2 Esmé Berman (1975). The Story of South African Painting. Cape Town: AA Balkema, page 44.


A Space for Landscape: The Work of JH Pierneef, Standard Bank Gallery, Johannesburg, July 2015.


Standard Bank Gallery (2015). A Space for Landscape: The Work of JH Pierneef, Johannesburg: Standard Bank Gallery, illustrated in colour on page 95.

Karel Nel (2016). 'Rock Pools and Islands: The Imaginative Landscape of Walter Battiss, The King of Fook', in Warren Siebrits (ed.) Walter Battiss: 'I Invented Myself', Johannesburg: The Ampersand Foundation, illustrated in colour on page 302 with the title Sawmill Seychelles.


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