14th Sep, 2022 18:00

20th Century & Contemporary Art

Lot 64
Lot 64 - George Pemba (South Africa 1912-2001)


George Pemba (South Africa 1912-2001)
Pennies from Heaven

oil on board

Artwork date: 1986
Signature details: signed and dated bottom right; inscribed with the title on the reverse

Sold for R591,760
Estimated at R300,000 - R400,000


oil on board

Artwork date: 1986
Signature details: signed and dated bottom right; inscribed with the title on the reverse


36.5 x 50 cm; framed size: 61.5 x 75.5 x 5.5 cm


Willie and Evelyn Bester Collection.

Acquired around 2000 through an exchange with another collector.


George Pemba's work was first exhibited at the Feather Market Hall in Port Elizabeth in 1928, when he was only sixteen. In 1934, his drawings caught the attention of landscape painter, Ethel Smythe, who, in tutoring him, introduced him to the work of Rembrandt van Rijn, Diego Velázquez and the Impressionists. Pemba received first prize in the May Esther Bedford Competition in 1937, with fellow artist Gerard Sekoto awarded second prize. His first commission came in 1950, in the form of a portrait of the esteemed educator and activist, Professor Davidson Don Tengo Jabavu for the University of Fort Hare.

Pemba’s “respect for the value of good drawing, inventive composition, accomplished handling of paint and an overarching sense of vision”[1] has been praised by Hayden Proud, then Senior Curator of Historical Paintings and Sculpture at the South African National Gallery and co-author of the authoritative George Pemba Retrospective Exhibition and monograph. His ability to identify with his fellow human beings, and his immense compassion in capturing their experiences, has made him one of the foremost chroniclers of the lives of ordinary South Africans.

Another version of the subject Pennies from Heaven, painted in 1980, is illustrated in the Pemba monograph with the caption: ‘A wish-fulfillment, dreams coming true and heavenly rewards showering from the sky is the basis of a number of paintings like this, produced over a number of years. They reflect the power of hope in the face of great poverty and deprivation in the artist’s community.’[2] With its crowd of curious onlookers gathering around, it captures a more communal, everyday experience.

The present painting, from 1986, where this humble woman has turned to the open window with arms outstretched to the sky, invokes a direct relationship with the Provider, and situates the work within an august tradition of religious paintings that depict a close relationship between humans and their gods and the fulfilling of ardent wishes, dreams and prayers. In the tradition of religious depictions, she too, like Mary, Mother of God, is dressed in blue. The blue sky, bedspread and painting provide the cool tones in contrast to the room, flooded with warm light, and against which the much prayed-for golden pennies shimmer.

The notion of pennies from heaven represents unexpected good fortune, as in a sudden windfall. The expression may have originated with the song and motion picture so named in 1936, popularised by Bing Crosby.

Emma Bedford

[1] Proud, H. in Proud, Hayden and Feinberg, Barry. Eds. (1996). George Pemba Retrospective Exhibition. Cape Town: South African National Gallery and the Mayibuye Centre, p.16.

[2] Huddleston, S. (1996). George Pemba: Against All Odds. Johannesburg: Jonathan Ball Publishers, p.135.


The artist is represented in numerous local and international collections, notably, De Beers Centenary Art Gallery, University of Fort Hare.; Iziko South African National Gallery, Cape Town.; Johannesburg Art Gallery.; Nelson Mandela Metropolitan Art Museum, Port Elizabeth and The World Bank Collection, Washington, D.C.

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Auction: 20th Century & Contemporary Art, 14th Sep, 2022


Aspire Art will impress collectors with this focused, boutique-style auction. Including 81 carefully selected lots the sale boasts impressive examples by many of South Africa’s most celebrated artists. A fine selection of William Kentridge works, including two original drawings, Eduardo Villa sculptures, painting by Robert Hodgins and Walter Battiss and a wonderful early Penny Siopis drawing are on offer.

Also featured are two special sections – Black Modernism and Photography. Aspire has firmly cemented itself as a champion of both these collecting segments and collectors will be spoilt for choice with a rare drawing by Dumile Feni as well as works by other modernists including Gerard Sekoto, George Pemba and Lucas Sithole and photographs by David Goldblatt, Mohau Modisakeng and Simphiwe Ndzube amongst others.


The exhibition preview is open to the public.

Viewing is from Friday 9 to Wednesday 14 September.

Weekdays from 09h30 to 16h30, Saturdays from 09h30 to 14h00, and Sundays by appointment.

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