A Cape avenue, possibly Worcester signed and dated 'JH Pierneef 1929' (lower right) oil on board 54 x 66cm (21 1/4 x 26in).
PROVENANCE: HRH Princess Alice, Countess of Athlone Thence by direct descent to the current owner
The present lot can be seen in the artist's studio at his home in Villiera, Pretoria, in a photograph published on page 52 of P.G. Nel, JH Pierneef: His life and work. It was completed in the same year that Pierneef received his public commission to paint 32 enormous murals for the new Johannesburg railway station, which occupied most of his time over the next three years. This painting and many of the station panels demonstrate the artist's admiration and understanding of Cape Dutch architecture.
Dr Fransen suggests the scene represents Church Street in Worcester, looking to the northeast, with the Dutch Reformed Church in the distance:
"Situation-wise it tallies; the church is placed at the top end of a large, wide open square, which always had a double avenue of trees to demarcate it, so that it has a row of trees opposite, instead of a row of houses. The gravel of the sidewalk gives it the pink appearance...Admittedly the artist has taken some liberties with the architecture of the church, probably finishing it off in his studio."
Princess Alice, Countess of Athlone (18831981) was the last surviving grandchild of Queen Victoria. She accompanied her husband, the Earl of Athlone, to South Africa, where he served as Governor-General from 19241931. During their time there, Lord and Lady Athlone had a coastal beach house constructed at Muizenberg, which is now one of South Africa's national monuments. The Cape Town suburb of Athlone was named in their honour.
It is not certain whether the present lot, as well as the following two lots, were gifts or works commissioned by Princess Alice. What is certain is that she was a great admirer of Pierneef's work. In October 1930, Pierneef held an exhibition of 47 paintings in Pretoria, which Princess Alice visited and where she selected two paintings for the Women's Committee of Pretoria to present to her. The Princess chose Karoo and Bushveld Rustenberg.
Two months later, she and the newly retired Governor General visited Pierneef's studio and chose a large painting, N'tabeni, 1930, which they wished to donate to the museum in Cape Town, because they felt that South African artists were poorly represented. That work currently hangs in the main building of the South African National Gallery, opened by the Athlones on 3rd November 1930.
We are grateful to Dr Hans Fransen, architectural historian, for his assistance in cataloguing this lot.
BIBLIOGRAPHY: P.G. Nel, JH Pierneef: His life and work (Cape Town, 1990) H. Fransen, Old Towns and Villages of the Cape (Jeppestown, 2006)