The landscape genre is a key part of the story of South African art and remains a highly sought-after collectable at auction. More than half of the 12 most valuable artists sold at auction by Strauss & Co since 2009 worked with landscape…, including Walter Battiss, Maggie Laubser, Hugo Naudé, and Cecil Skotnes, but none were as faithful to this country’s geographical abundance as JH Pierneef.
Since its establishment in 2009, Strauss & Co has sold 273 lots by this master of the South African landscape at its live sales, achieving R163 million in combined sales.
Pierneef is second only to Irma Stern as Strauss & Co’s top-selling artist, and his work is always enthusiastically pursued at auction.
In June last year, Strauss & Co achieved a world record for Pierneef’s 1928 oil, Farm Jonkershoek with Twin Peaks Beyond, Stellenbosch, when it sold for R20.46 million. Strauss & Co’s forthcoming spring sale in Cape Town on October 15 includes no less than 18 works by this celebrated artist. They cover all the media he worked with: oil on canvas, casein, watercolour, linocut, etching, pastel, charcoal and pencil.
All classes of Pierneef enthusiasts are catered for: from entry-level collectors aiming to lay a solid foundation to connoisseurs in search of his rare, typically ravishing casein works. Pierneef’s later-period work Elephant Castle, Selati River, Phalaborwa (estimated at between R3 to R5 million) commands the highest pre-sale estimate. Executed in 1945 in his monumental style, the 60.5cm by 76cm oil on canvas depicts the Selati River near its confluence with the Olifants River outside Phalaborwa. The picture is dominated by a granite hill, its geometric proportions keenly described by the artist.
An accomplished draughtsman, Pierneef’s gift was to inject theatricality into his pictures – be it through the formal styling of his clouds or use of colour. Painted in 1930, A View of Mountains
Through Trees (estimate R1.2 – R1.8 million) sees Pierneef in an experimental mood, using dusky reds to frame and further dramatise a receding landscape. The clouds in this lot share affinities with those in his iconic Johannesburg station panel commission (1929-32), which the artist had already commenced.
Other notable Pierneef works on offer include Thorn Trees in Mountain Landscape at Dusk (estimate R350 000 – R500 000), one of two casein landscapes purchased by the current owner’s grandparents from the artist’s studio in the early 1930s; two early pastels depicting trees, Green Sky with Brown Willows from 1914 (estimate R350 000 – R500 000) and Tree Roots from 1916 (estimate R250 000 – R350 000); and three dulcet mountain landscapes, all oil on board,
A Road through a Mountainous Landscape (estimate R200 000 – R300 000), A Mountainous Landscape (estimate R200 000 – R300 000) and the petite 10.5cm by 14cm Purple Mountains (estimate R100 000 – R150 000), depicting the Brandberg in Namibia.
Born two years after Pierneef, in Germany, Adolph Jentsch received his training in Dresden and moved to South-West Africa (now Namibia) in 1938. In the words of his biographer Olga Levinson, Jentsch’s landscapes evoke “the silent poetry” of the “great, empty land” he settled in.
Strauss & Co is delighted to be offering four Jentsch oils from the Peter and Regina Strack Collection. A German-born architect and artist based in Namibia, Peter Strack honed his skills as a collector under the tutelage of Jentsch. Vlei on Farm Teufelsbach (estimate R600 000 – R800 000) offers an unusually verdant view of the Otjihavera River. The work is a rarity in a country famed for its scorched desert landscapes.
Schafrevier (estimate R500 000 – R700 000) is more typical of the muted desert tones of Namibia and Jentsch; it depicts the Schaf River just south of Windhoek. Ibenstein, SW Afrika (estimate R500 000 – R700 000) is a masterfully achieved night scene in grey that reflects Jentsch’s study of Chinese water-colourists. Cecil Skotnes started out painting landscapes, but was dissuaded from pursuing the genre further by dealer Egon Guenther, only to return to it in later years.
Painted in 1961, two years before the founding of the Amadlozi Group, Abstract Landscape (estimate R150 000 – R200 000) is a striking companion piece to the 1998 oil, City Bowl Landscape (estimate R250 000 – R350 000).
Both works conjure mythic geographies from cubistic blocks of colour. In 1957, the same year Pierneef died, Skotnes held his first solo exhibition in Pretoria. It was opened by Battiss, whose Rock Formations (estimate R150 000 – R200 000) is typical of work from the 1950s when he began integrating compressed perspectives, geometric simplification and non-naturalistic colours into his landscape compositions.
The works mentioned will go under the hammer on the evening of October 15 at the Vineyard Hotel in Newlands, Cape Town. The public can view these important works from October 12 to 14, from 10am to 5pm. Strauss & Co will also be hosting an extensive programme of public talks and social events in the lead-up to the sale.