Matlala, Pietersburg signed and dated 'J. H. Pierneef 1935' (lower left) oil on canvas 51 x 66.4cm (20 1/16 x 26 1/8in).
PROVENANCE: With Schweickerdt, Pretoria Ernest Frederick Cambridge Lane (1882-1958), ADC to General Smuts By descent to his niece Dorothea Monro Hone Thence by descent to the current owner
Ernest Lane accompanied General Smuts to the signing of the Armistice that ended the first World War in 1918.
"He is teaching us to see, understand and to appreciate the rolling miles of veld with the blue mountains in the distance, the strange almost fantastic trees that dot the landscape of our own land" (T. Roos, as quoted in Coetzee, 2010).
Pierneef was the recipient of many commissions during his career: among his most notable were the twenty-eight panels for the interior of the Johannesburg Station building (1929) and the seven murals, including Matlala's Location, at South Africa House, London (1933). In the present lot he uses many of the same devices as those used in both series, notably the cloud structure, wide vistas and geometric forms seen throughout. The road slices through the centre of the plane and winds its way to a point on the horizon, much like the river does in Apies River, Pretoria and Waterval Boven station panels.
Following their time in London, the Pierneefs arrived back in South Africa in the second half of 1934. Having spent a whole year in comparatively grey and drab England, the artist was undoubtedly newly inspired by his country, and fell in love with the landscape all over again: "He worked with fresh energy and inspiration and did not allow himself much respite" (Nel, 1990, p.83). Pierneef's majestic landscapes effortlessly encapsulate the growing spirit of national independence which swept over the country in the 1930s, installing a renewed confidence that South African culture was about to be freed from its long subservience to the influence of Europe.
The rocky outcrop and rondavels to the left help identify the location of the present lot as Matlala, a village near Cheune's Poort in the Pietersburg district of Limpopo (today Polokwane). He completed several oil paintings and watercolours of the village from different perspectives. Others include A native kraal with a mountain beyond, 1933 (sold in these rooms on 16 April 2002, lot 203), Matlala, Pietersburg, 1934 (sold at Stephan Welz & Co., Johannesburg, 20 November 2007, lot 616) and Matlala, Pietersburg (sold at Strauss & Co., 15 March 2010, lot 352). The subject was also used by Pierneef for a well-known woodcut print in 1941 entitled Matlala's Mountain, Northern Transvaal (Nilant 64).
"In his paintings he treats mountains and rock formations as structures with stark planes with an accentuated verticality" (Nel, 1990, pp.201-202).
The present lot features featuring many motifs common to Pierneef's work. His obsession with architecture can be noted in his use of linear perspective, yet he further emphasises the vastness of this open landscape with his use of atmospheric perspective: the warm foreground, the blue mountains; and the dwarfing of the majestic Kremetartboom, or Baobab Trees, so often seen dominating his canvases. The rondavels remind us of Pierneef's love of architecture, and indigenous architecture in particular. In 1939 he bought a farm near Pretoria, and built his home on the foundations of an old kraal he discovered there.
The present lot can be summarized in much the same way that Coetzee summarizes the artist's career: "He was predominantly a Transvaal painter, but an affinity for scenes of deserted farmyards, dry landscapes and rock formations remained throughout his career. Billowing clouds and single trees placed in the foreground became the trademark of his paintings." (Coetzee, 2010, p.19)
BIBLIOGRAPHY: N.L. Coetzee, J.H. Pierneef: the Station Panels, exhibition catalogue, (Stellenbosch, 2010) J.F.W. Grosskopf, Hendrik Pierneef, (Pretoria, 1947) P.G. Nel, J.H. Pierneef: His life and work, (Cape Town, 1990)