Live Virtual Auction, 26 July 2021
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About this Item
A singularly important casein by Pierneef, dated 1924, the present lot is arguably the first complete rendering of the famous peaks of Jonkershoek, Stellenbosch, a subject that the artist explored virtually throughout his life. He made numerous sketches of the peaks in preparation for one of the four scenes of the Cape of Good Hope that form part of the eponymous Johannesburg Railway Station panels he painted between 1929 and 1932. The other scenes are of Hermanus, Table Mountain, and Lion’s Head. Jonkershoek Farm near Stellenbosch, 1928, a painting referencing the same location, sold at Strauss & Co for a world record price of R20 462 400.
Deviating from his usual structural elements, such as the framing device of the trees on the left and right hand side of the scene, similar to the proscenium arch of a theatre stage, and featuring the homestead as focal point of the composition, Pierneef was much more adventurous when he composed this angle of the Jonkershoek peaks in the present lot. He renders the peaks with a dramatic diagonal which runs from the top right to the centre of the picture plane. In addition, he places the viewer on an elevated level in the foreground, with a deep valley looming in the middle ground for a heightened experience of this majestic mountain range. This is nature in its purest sense, devoid of the cultivated land of the surrounding wine farms.
The sense of drama is intensified by the use of colour contrasts between the rather dark greens and purples of the fore- and middle grounds, and the bright pinks and oranges of the peaks in the background. This was a period in Pierneef’s artistic development that Esmé Berman labelled as experimentation and exploration, and the adventurous composition is a worthy testament to this.
To strengthen what Berman calls the experimental nature of Pierneef’s work at this time, is the wide range of styles he employed in this one work, ranging from the flat reduction of forms rendering the work rather abstract like many of the early-20th century modernist styles in Europe, to a detailed, impressionistic rendering of the vegetation and trees, and even using a pointillist style in the depiction of the peaks and the clouds in the background. This intimate casein constitutes a veritable jewel in Pierneef’s crown of creative output.
Also innovative and experimental, is his use of an unusual medium, that of the casein, that Pierneef explored at this stage while he was awaiting art supplies ordered through the Schweickerdt company in Pretoria. Casein is a curd-based medium, akin to that of poster paint or gouache, the proteins in the curd acting as binding agent, in which grinded colour pigment is mixed. Fleeting in nature, the casein medium dries extremely quickly, compelling the artist to work rather fast and quite accurately, leaving no margin for errors that can be corrected, erased or painted over in any way. It constitutes a true test of an artist’s dexterity with the paint brush. The result is often an overall glowing quality that surrounds the complete work, unlike gouache or poster paint that tend to be rather dull.
Dr HG Schweickerdt (brother of Emil Heinrich Schweickerdt) and thence by descent.
Strauss & Co, Cape Town, 16 October 2017, lot 591.