Press Office

Two Early Cape Paintings

  3 February 2011     Archived

Two remarkable paintings by Pieter Wenning (1873-1921) coming up at Strauss & Co's next auction on 7 March, offer intriguing views of early Cape Town.

The first, entitled Claremont, CP was painted in 1919 when the artist was lodging at the Vineyard Hotel. Unable to pay for his board, he appealed to D. C. Boonzaier, his mentor, friend and greatest supporter throughout his life, who persuaded leading businessman and Member of Parliament, Dr William Duncan Baxter, of Baxter Theatre fame, to come to his rescue.

It is painted from The Grove, a farm also known as Veldhuysen or Feldhausen in what is now Claremont. This property was acquired in 1834 by Sir John Herschel, the astronomer. It was here that he set up his reflector and observed the southern skies as well as the return of Comet Halley. It is also here that the young naturalist Charles Darwin visited Herschel on 3 June 1836.
The Grove provided an ideal retreat from the pressures under which Herschel found himself in London, where he was one of the most sought-after of all British men of science. It was, he later recalled, probably the happiest time in his life. The present day Grove Avenue is named after the farm and Herschel Girls’ School takes its name from its illustrious occupant.

Wenning’s painting depicts in the foreground the thatched cottages so characteristic of the area at the time. The whitewashed wall surrounding the homestead skilfully leads the viewer’s eye into the middle distance enclosed by tall Stone Pines. The repetition of tree trunks, reminiscent of the graphic qualities of the Japanese woodcuts that Wenning so admired, provides an elegant frame to the rustic foreground scene.

Noted architectural historian Hans Fransen points out that the cottages are the typical mid-nineteenth-century “Cape-English” variety that characterised early suburban Cape Town, a cottagey variation of Cape Dutch, smaller-scaled, lower, and with hipped thatch rooves instead of gables. Precisely because they were built in what were later to become our present-day suburbs – Rondebosch, Claremont – and therefore had to make way for more modern structures, they are now very rarely found, except in Wynberg’s “Little Chelsea”.
The second painting depicts a view of Keerom Street looking towards town. It was certainly painted long before the Provincial Building was erected in Wale Street but after the Cape High Court was completed in 1912. Visible on the right is the august building, designed by Hawke & McKinlay. With its local granite façade, it was suitably magisterial for what became, on the creation of the Union of South Africa in 1910, the Cape of Good Hope Provincial Division of the new Supreme Court of South Africa.

Interestingly, the main entrance, according to the original plan of the building, would have been in Queen Victoria Street. Frans Rautenbach reports in ‘The History of the Cape Provincial Division’ that when the judges learnt that that might mean that they would forfeit the luxury of a view over the Company Gardens, it was decided that the facade of the building would be reversed, so that the main entrance is now in Keerom Street.

The spire of the Metropolitan Methodist Church on Greenmarket Square towers above the low buildings at the end of the street. Bathed in warm light, this street scene offers a glimpse into the early twentieth-century history of the city.

In these two paintings Pieter Wenning has provided us with two complementary views of early Cape Town – one of the typically rustic suburbs and the other of a ‘modern city’. They are on exhibition at the Vineyard Hotel where all the items coming up for the auction can be viewed on 5 and 6 March. Walkabouts by Stephan Welz and Emma Bedford are presented on Saturday 5 and Sunday 6 March at 11:00. Catalogues are available at R100 each.

Enquiries: 021 683 6560 and 078 044 8185.

Text: Emma Bedford, Senior Paintings Specialist, Strauss & Co.


Media Liaison: Bina Genovese 083 680 9944


Pieter Wenning (South African 1873-1921)
At Claremont, CP
Signed, inscribed with the title on the reverse
Oil on canvas
37,5 by 47,5cm
R800 000 – 1 200 000

Pieter Wenning (South African 1873-1921)
Keerom Street, Cape Town
Oil on canvas
37 by 27cm
R700 000 – 900 000