Sold: Sotheby Parke Bernet, Johannesburg, 3 November 1976, lot 127.
Jacob Hendrik Pierneef’s Golden Gate is an impressive example of his mature work. While the Impressionists’ and Post-Impressionists’ colour palette and treatment of light effects are evident in earlier works, Pierneef found in Dutch artist and theorist, Willem van Konijnenburg’s ideas the approach that was to become the foundation for his mature style, of which this painting is an outstanding example.
Van Konijnenburg (1868-1943), whom Pierneef met on his second visit to Europe in 1925, was to have the most seminal influence on Pierneef’s art and thinking through his philosophy regarding the spiritual effects of mathematical proportion, linear rhythm and simplified form. Accordingly, principles of geometry that stress precision through the emphasis of linear elements in painting are employed to achieve harmony, balance and unity.
Rather than presenting the drama of the rock faces Pierneef has chosen an elevated position from which to look down on the site. The primary focus is not thus on the isolated rock features but on the whole area with its rolling hills and dales, the subtlest of complementary colours and its perfect balance of horizontals intersected here and there by vertical trees. All elements are integrated into the harmonious whole. Shapes echo or complement one another in a continuous symphony of form and colour. The cottages nestled in the valleys are the very essence of contentment. Nothing is out of place and nought disturbs the perfection of this place. Golden Gate is Pierneef’s paean to the landscape he so loved.
The eye is drawn along the winding river in the foreground and through the valley with its rocky outcrops up to the majestic grandeur of the deep cobalt blue mountains and into the clouds which appear to have parted to allow clear blue skies to penetrate. Even the clouds are arranged to underscore Van Konijnenburg’s theory of spiritual unity through geometry.
Golden Gate is located in the rolling foothills of the Maluti Mountains of the north eastern Free State and derives its name from the brilliant shades of gold cast by the sun on the sandstone cliffs, especially the imposing Brandwag rock. 11 600 hectares of unique highland habitat provide home to a variety of mammals – black wildebeest, eland, blesbok, oribi, springbok and Burchell's zebra – and birds, including the rare bearded vulture (lammergeier) and the equally rare bald ibis, which breed on the ledges in the sandstone cliffs.
According to Ernst van Jaarsveld, Botanist and Horticulturist at Kirstenbosch National Botanical Gardens:
The climate has mild summers (summer rainfall) with very cold winters, experiencing regular frost and occasional snow. The characteristic geology of impressive Clarens Sandstone cliffs is overlooked by the Basalt of the Lesotho Highlands. The native vegetation in the region is grassland, classified as Eastern Free State Sandy Grassland. Due to the cold winters, exotic tree species were planted by the farmers both for practical (protective) and aesthetic reasons. The tall straight trees in the centre foreground are Lombardy poplar (Populus nigra) (Italiaanse populier in Afrikaans), a popular species much planted in the region. The tall trees on the left are probably examples of the Pencil Cedar (Jumiperus virginiana) with its characteristic cone shape. The rounded trees on the right in the background strongly resemble the English Oak trees (Quercus robur) as well as the commonly planted weeping willow (Salix babylonica). The shrubbery just to the left of the house could be a conifer such as the Lawson Cypress (Chamaecyparis lawsoniana).i
i Ernst van Jaarsveld in an email to Emma Bedford, dated 23 March, 2011.
Mrs E Sachar
Stephan Welz, Art at Auction in South Africa 1969-1989, Johannesburg, 1989, page 127, illustrated in colour.