On 12 January 1926, Henk Pierneef and his wife May boarded the S.S. Toba. They were the only paying passengers on the freighter, which was to make its way down the east coast of Africa to Durban via Port Said. From his letters home, Henk was clearly vitalized and motivated: his European tour, which had taken in London, Paris, Amsterdam, Antwerp, Bruges, Düsseldorf, Munich and Berlin, had been life-changing. Besides meeting influential theorist Willem van Konijnenburg and the academic Anton Hendriks, Pierneef was exhilarated by the avant-garde spirit he had encountered, not to mention his exposure to the various guises of modernism that would define the period. Armed with a newly acquired collection of books and catalogues – many of which have been preserved in a private collection in Pretoria – the artist was determined to add a more modern, worldly edge to his style. Writing to his friend Thom Steele, Pierneef made plain his new approach: ‘I can deliver a heavy blow on the Pretoria frontier and shock many an art connoisseur’.
Staying true to his word, Pierneef produced an astonishing, varied and endlessly-experimental group of works in the following years. Its stylistic range was remarkable: the architectonic, shard-surfaced paintings, now so iconic, were enormously controversial; the flashy, luminous caseins were breathtaking; and the gentle, Divisionist works, relying on a more subdued palette, so expressive. The current lot, Gold & Green, Rooiplaat, N.T., falls into the latter set. The painting’s surface pulsates with short, simple, wriggling strokes of pure colour. Distinct dabs of mauve, teal, pink and yellow either overlap or remain apart, often surrounded by bare canvas. A nod to the European Neo-Impressionists is obvious, as is the artist’s analytical, considered approach to colour application. The result is an exquisite, buttery, transformative view of his beloved Rooiplaat.
Stephan Welz & Co in Association with Sotheby's, Johannesburg, 30 November 1993, lot 535.