The Acacia is one of many in the Pierneef inventory of indigenous trees that he painted throughout his life, judging from a catalogue list of trees exhibited on one of his exhibitions in Cape Town in 1947: The White Tree – Lowveld, Thorn Tree – Bushveld, Hardekoolbome, Rooibosboom, Harpuisboom, Wild Acacia, and so on. This list can be extended when Pierneef’s Baobab Tree and Siringa Tree paintings were included in the seminal exhibition, Overseas Art from South Africa at the Tate Gallery, London in 1948, an exhibition that travelled to The Hague in the Netherlands in 1949. Charles te Water aptly called Pierneef the doyen of South African painting in the catalogue that accompanied this exhibition.
Depicting indigenous trees has always been Pierneef’s forte as a fine artist. Commenting on his momentous exhibition at the Lidchi Gallery, Johannesburg in 1942, a Star reporter describes it thus: ‘Flat, decorative and formal in treatment, and high in key for the most part, the tree paintings represent an enthusiasm which finds full expression in the large painting, Patriarch of the Bushveld. This is a picture one can walk into and explore, it is the Bushveld’. With this in mind, the present lot could well have been another patriarch in Pierneef’s oeuvre as a foremost painter of trees.
He made numerous sketches of trees while criss-crossing the country on his endless painting trips. Sketches of trees abound in the first biography of Pierneef by JFW Grosskopf (1947). Says Grosskopf: Pierneef himself believes in hard work and patient preparation. For many of the panels of the Johannesburg Station he worked out up to thirty, and even more preliminary sketches and projects. When he puts our South African trees, particularly the Bushveld trees that he loves, into one of his more decorative pictures in a somewhat formalized manner, those that know him also know that he has made hundreds of drawings from nature of all those trees with punctilious detail. He has drawn the roots gripping the earth, leaves and thorns, blossoms or curled seed pods, with the accuracy of a botanist.’1
Pierneef places the tree in the present lot slightly off-centre to the left in the overall composition in such a manner that the canopy of the tree forms part of an overarching umbrella, a form completed in the background by dramatic storm clouds. The green canopy is complemented by the cluster of smaller acacia trees in the middle ground, dwarfed by the giant Acacia towering over them. In addition, the big tree contrasts sharply with the white of the cloud behind it. The green and white colours dominate, providing an austere, bleached-out landscape which cuts to the essentials of the veld. Pierneef usually foregrounds his bulbous clouds in a vast sky that takes up most of the picture plane, but in this case, the emphasis is clearly on the tree. The tree is clearly the patriarch of the Bushveld.
1 JFW Grosskopf 1947 Pierneef: the man and his work. Van Schaik publishers, p13
Turbine Art Fair, Johannesburg, Pierneef: A Collector's Passion, 14 July 2017 - 16 July 2017.