Golden willows signed and dated 'JH Pierneef Dec 1917' (lower right) gouache and gold paint 30.4 x 40.5cm (11 15/16 x 15 15/16in).
PROVENANCE: Sale, Stephan Welz & Co., Johannesburg, April 19, 1993, lot 373 Private collection
"I have studied the [willow] tree to the point of exhaustion. I know every bend in its trunk or its heavy branches. I could draw by heart every gnarl in its bark. The willow is the most beautiful tree that I know in SA, especially in the winter." (the artist, as quoted in Nel 1990, p.43)
Willows were Pierneef's most beloved trees. He enjoyed painting their heavy gnarled trunks, flowery leaves and stark branches. He was known to make hundreds of drawings from nature of trees, ranging from roots to leaves, blossoms to trunks. A huge weeping willow shaded the artist's home in De Waal Street, Pretoria, where he lived after his marriage to Agatha Delen in 1910. By the time of his first solo exhibition, at the J.H. de Bussey Building, Pretoria, in October 1913, his work was so dominated by the tree that this well-received show was referred to by the press as representing the "cult of the willow". It was a subject he returned to countless times throughout his career.
Pierneef used a very similar composition for his linocut Wilkerbome (Nilant 1974, plate 81). His linocuts often informed his painting style; here Pierneef has used the same characteristics of bold outlines and flat surfaces to depict the shape and nature of the willow tree. This stylisation demonstrates Pierneef's great love for decorative surfaces.
The present lot is remarkable for the media and technique employed by the artist. The use of stark black to depict the trees in the foreground is rare, and the artist appears to abandon the technique early in his career. It can be seen in Die Rooiberge, KP, 1911 (Marita Bailey-Pierneef collection, illustrated in Nel 1990, p.154) and Mountains and Trees (sold by Strauss & Co, 16 May 2011, lot 25); both works portray their subjects in a manner similar to batik or printing. Perhaps the most noteworthy comparison can be made with The Golden Willow, previously in the private collection of the artist. The same blackened willow branches frame the scene, but in that work the artist employs gold paint to create the glow of a sunset, against which he silhouettes the smaller willows in the background to great effect.