Live Auction, 12 November 2018
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About this Item
Few South African landscape pictures are as dazzling, as evocative, and as memorable as JH Pierneef’s Lowveld, Eastern Transvaal. Having been acquired and treasured by the Schweickert family – a name closely associated with the artist from as early as 1910 – the painting’s fame has more to do with its stippled, mesmerising surface than with its prominent position, in full, blazing colour, in PG Nel’s landmark monograph, JH Pierneef: His Life and His Work. Painted in 1928, the year of his groundbreaking and modern-spirited show at Polliack’s Music Room in Pretoria, the work catches the artist at his most innovative and technically assured.
The foreground of Lowveld, Eastern Transvaal is dominated by two beautiful, balanced, heavenreaching acacias, their bark in ever-changing combinations of lavender, orange and pink; behind them the bushveld recedes deep into the picture, its grasslands and clearings turning from green to coral to violet as they roll towards the mountains. Each part of the scene – however near or distant – is treated with equal care. Pierneef colours the mountains and the clouds with his signature sense of drama: deep purples follow the shadows under ridge lines, blue and indigo define the range’s silhouette, while spots of grey and streaks of silver and white make up the sky.
While still energised by his time in Europe in 1925 and 1926, and despite his head being turned there by some contemporary preferences for unrestrained colour and painterly impulse, the composition of Lowveld, Eastern Transvaal is organised along simple geometric lines. This clear respect for structured, mathematical pattern had much to do with the teachings of the Dutch theorist Willem van Konijnenburg, and it adds to the sense of peacefulness and harmony that pervades the artist’s view of his beloved bushveld. It also provides evidence of the artist’s specific attempts at the time to impose on his landscapes the kind of rigorous, decorative order made famous by Composition in Blue. In fact, despite the shimmering finish of the one, and the heavy, cool permanence of the other, the two paintings have much more in common than the date of execution. Both, moreover, are icons of South African landscape painting.
LiteraturePG Nel (ed.) (1990). J H Pierneef: His Life and His Work. Cape Town: Perskor, illustrated in colour on page 219.