16th Nov, 2023 18:00

20th Century & Contemporary Art

  Lot 19
Lot 19 - Jacobus Hendrik Pierneef (South Africa 1886-1957)


Jacobus Hendrik Pierneef (South Africa 1886-1957)
Bergland Suidwesafrika

oil on board

Artwork date: 1924
Signature details: signed and dated bottom left; signed, dated and inscribed with the title and 'Pretoria' on the reverse
Exhibited: Heerengracht 545 - 549, Amsterdam, 'Zuid Afrikaansche Schilderijen en Houtsenden door J.H Pierneef', 10 October to 22 October 1925.


oil on board

Artwork date: 1924
Signature details: signed and dated bottom left; signed, dated and inscribed with the title and 'Pretoria' on the reverse
Exhibited: Heerengracht 545 - 549, Amsterdam, 'Zuid Afrikaansche Schilderijen en Houtsenden door J.H Pierneef', 10 October to 22 October 1925.


14 x 24.5 cm; framed size: 46 x 56 x 3.5 cm


Private collection, Cape Town.

Schweickerdt Art Gallery, Pretoria.


In December 1922 Ons Vaderland published an article in which they stated that, “We know more than one of our artists has to struggle to make ends meet”, citing Pierneef's situation in that 'Our Pierneef' sold but a handful of works a year and turned to farming to survive.[1] Pierneef's struggling finances and failing first marriage had for some time impeded his ability to paint and when he travelled to South West Africa in April 1923, at the invitation of his good friend Toon van der Heever, he found himself invigorated by the region. He made this trip without Agatha, his wife, and within two months of arriving in the country he held an exhibition in Windhoek where he showed approximately 30 paintings and a number of linocuts.[2] He returned to South Africa in July 1923 and busied himself with exhibitions. On 24 February 1924, Pierneef left Agatha for good. Their divorce was finalised on 16 October 1924.

Towards the middle of 1924, J.H. Pierneef made his second trip to Namibia (then South West Africa). Accompanied by May Schoep (the future second Mrs Pierneef), he entered a renewed period of painting which his friend, Anton Hendriks described as a “beautiful period”.[3] Pierneef himself stated that “the desert, the drought, the peculiar translucent quality of the light” made for a beautiful landscape.[4] In a letter received from his godfather, Anton van Wouw, the older artist commented: “...in general things must appear toneless and bright against the light, which makes the landscape much more colourful. I am pleased that you feel the urge to imitate the shades of the colours of your soul”.[5]

The inclusion of Bergland Suidwesafrika and its companion pieces in Pierneef's exhibition held in the Netherlands in 1925 is crucial when understanding that this subject forms the foundation for the marked changes in style in Pierneef's work after his return from the Netherlands.

In an article published by the The Star on 24 April 1926, Pierneef is quoted as saying, “What amazed everyone who saw my pictures in Holland...was their wonderful lightness...van Goch [sic], one of the greatest impressionists of the last generation, declared...that he would even disguised himself as a soldier if he could be sent to South Africa...they have the greatest gift...the supreme glory of all nature - the glory of the sun. And that,I think, is what we young South African artists would try and do, we should try and give the world the glory of our sun”.[6]

In this work the light endemic to the Namibian landscape glows on the planes of the Omatako Mountains painted in vivid staccato brush strokes. The Omatako Mountains are dominated by twin peaks (the Herero name Omatako translates as buttocks). The peaches and pinks of the mountain range are off-set with Pierneef's use of deep maroons and steel-tinged blues reminiscent of the 1872 Claude Monet, titled Sunrise. Today considered one of Monet's most famous works and a seminal work from the Impressionist movement. While Monet's subject deals with an atmospheric harbour scene, the transient nature of the light is what draws comparison between these two works. Bergland Suidwesafrika (1924) belies its proportions in capturing a snapshot of an otherwise fleeting moment when the Namibian sun brings the Omatako's to life.

Phillippa Duncan

[1] Nel, P.G.(1990). JH Pierneef: His life and his work. Cape Town and Johannesburg: Perskor Publishers.p.61.

[2] Ibid. p.62.

[3] Ibid. p.60.

[4] Ibid. p.61.

[5] Ibid

[6] https://collections.nwu.ac.za/dbtw-wpd/textbases/pierneef/documents-

pierneef/1926_bushveld.pdf (accessed 26 September 2021)


The artist is represented in numerous local and international collections, notably, the Ann Bryant Gallery, East London; Engelenberg House Art Collection, Pretoria; Johannesburg Art Gallery; Johannesburg; The Nelson Mandela Metropolitan Art Museum, Gqeberha; Pierneef Museum, Pretoria; Durban Art Gallery; Pretoria Art Museum; Iziko South African National Gallery, Cape Town; University of Cape Town Art Collection and the William Humphreys Art Gallery, Kimberley.

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