Lavender Treescape, Pilgrims Rest

Jacob Hendrik Pierneef

Oil on Canvas
50.5 x 60cm
Signed: “J.H. Pierneef” (Lower/Left)
Dated: 1933


Provenance:       The collection of Her Royal Highness the Late Princess Alice, Countess of Athlone
                            A private collection

Exhibitions:       Graham’s Fine Art Gallery. The Modern Palimpsest: Envisioning South African Modernity.29 March – 6 May 2007. Johannesburg.

Illustrated:         Sotheby’s Johannesburg (Sotheby Parke Bernet Group Limited). 1981. Africana Prints and Important South African Paintings and Sculpture. P 17. Lot 16

                           Graham’s Fine Art Gallery. 2007. The Modern Palimpsest: Envisioning South African Modernity.Graham’s Fine Art Gallery, Johannesburg. P. 36 & 37.




One of the challenges faced by any landscape painter of a country such as South Africa is the sheer variety, from the wild and exotic to the manicured and tamed, and even to the artificial.

The Eastern Transvaal (now divided between Limpopo Province and Mpumalanga) is rich in its own variation of the landscape, from bushveld to mountains, savannah to forest. It is thus rather difficult to determine what is typical and most telling of the landscape.  Cueing such instant recognition in the beholder accounts for much of the success of landscape painting, and especially Pierneef’s landscape painting.

This is a very unusual painting.  It shows what can only be described as an orchard of lavender trees.  The lower sections of the trunks are bare, thus allowing the recession of space under the canopies of the leaves.  This evokes the sense of a lowering forest, such as one finds in a plantation.  The date, 1933, is particularly telling: at that time Pierneef had clearly determined a style, a signature and an identity as an Afrikaner artist.  The pictorial and ideological constraints of his new fame militate against a straightforward interpretation of paintings such as these.

However, this painting can perhaps be explained.  One of the 32 panels in the Johannesburg Station Commission depicts a road in the Haenertsburg district.  It is a thickly wooded area, and although the appearance of this is much different from the painting being discussed, it Is not unlikely that Pierneef explored the surrounding area – including Pilgrim’s Rest – for scenery and subject matter to consolidate the success of the panels.

Thus the purpose of this painting is different from his usual pictorial concerns.  It is first and foremost an essay in colour effects; the complimentary yellows, browns, green blues and pinks.  The painterly gesture of the brush is bold and explicit.  It is clear that Pierneef was here attempting to put into practice some of the neo-Impressionist theories that were dominant in the art schools of Europe at the time.

by Nic Coetzee


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