19th Jun, 2024 19:00

20th Century & Contemporary Art

  Lot 24
Lot 24 - Bettie Cilliers-Barnard (South Africa 1914-2010)


Bettie Cilliers-Barnard (South Africa 1914-2010)
Abstract I

oil on canvas

Artwork date: 1970
Signature details: signed and dated bottom left

Estimated at R100,000 - R150,000


oil on canvas

Artwork date: 1970
Signature details: signed and dated bottom left

121 x 151 cm; framed size: 145 x 175 x 4 cm


Private collection, Cape Town.


Born in Rustenburg, Transvaal, in 1914, Cilliers-Barnard emerged as a powerful force in the world of art, leaving a lasting mark on South African artistic expression. Her journey was marked by geometric abstraction and a profound connection to universal forms, transcending canvas and pigment. Cilliers-Barnard's early works danced on the edge of abstraction and figuration. Her brushstrokes navigated the delicate balance between form and formlessness. However, it was the unexpected arrival of geometric shapes, mainly triangles and circles, that would define her artistic trajectory. These shapes became her visual language, each angle and curve conveying a specific message.

In the mid-20th century, Paris beckoned: an artistic haven where creativity flowed through cobblestone streets and bohemian cafes and many South African artists found inspiration. Here, Cilliers-Barnard studied under Jean-Paul Pons, a master who guided her from the abstract to the figurative. Paris infused her palette with new hues – the blush of a Montmartre sunrise, the melancholy blue of the Seine. But it was the artists she encountered, the ghosts of Picasso, the echoes of Modigliani, that left a real impression.

Paris transformed Cilliers-Barnard’s work. She explored themes of human existence, society, and the human figure. Her brush had newfound purpose, and the geometric shapes – those universal forms – grew bolder. Triangles intersected with circles, placed in combination with shields and crosses, created a visual dialogue that transcended any cultural or linguistic barriers, allowing her to communicate complex ideas and emotions in a visually striking manner.

The artist in the Atelier Jean-Paul Pons, Paris, November 1964.

Ballot, M. (2006). Bettie Cilliers-Barnard: Towards Infinity, Pretoria: University of South Africa Press, p. 132.

The image of a shield frequently occurred in her works from the 1970s onwards – a powerful symbol of protection, resilience, and identity. The other symbols in her work were also each emblematic of humankind and represented a certain facet of the human experience. Her symbolic shapes were bridges – gateways to understanding. They transcended language, speaking to the soul. A triangle, sharp and precise, told stories of resilience and vulnerability. A circle, unbroken, whispered of eternity and interconnectedness. The artist’s works prompted the viewer to look for something deeper than the merely apparent.

Cilliers-Barnard's works bridged worlds – the earthly and the ethereal, the figurative and the abstract – leaving us with a visual language that defies borders.

The artist in her studio, 1994.

Ballot, M. (2006). Bettie Cilliers-Barnard: Towards Infinity, Pretoria: University of South Africa Press, p. 135.


The artist is represented in numerous local and international collections, notably, Javett Art Centre, Pretoria; Iziko South African National Gallery, Cape Town; Taipei Fine Arts Museum, Taipei; William Annandale Art Museum, Lichtenburg and the South African Reserve Bank Collection, Pretoria.

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Auction: 20th Century & Contemporary Art, 19th Jun, 2024




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