Iconic Pierneef Landscapes feature in Strauss & Co’s Single-Artist Auction

Pierneef’s work has always sold well at auction and in recent years it has outperformed all expectations, on both the local and international art markets, as the artist's cultural significance continues to grow.

The artist Jacob Hendrik Pierneef had a profound, visceral connection with the South African natural environment and more than 60 years after his death he remains one of South Africa’s most iconic landscape painters and most collectable artists at auction.

He took draughting and drawing lessons from a retired architect, but his parents, who were forced into exile in the Netherlands during the South African War, could not afford to enrol him for formal training. The architectural influence remains ever-present in his work – there is a mathematic, calculated harmony in his images – not only in his depictions of elegant gabled façades of Cape Dutch homesteads but also in his paintings of dramatic ochre-coloured rock formations of the Valley of Desolation or Rustenburg Kloof.

However, it was the Bushveld of the then Transvaal that stimulated his most characteristic compositions. They have a transportive quality – the viewer can almost anticipate the smell of moist earth where a painting of towering cumulous clouds signals an approaching Lowveld thunderstorm, or hear the rustle of dry yellow Mopani leaves in a group of statuesque savanna trees.

Pierneef was an expert printmaker, pulling imprints of his linocuts and etchings in his own studio. These compositions, typically of iconic bushveld trees – wild syringa, umbrella thorn and leadwood – or modest traditional ‘Transvaal huisies’, may seem simple in their execution, but they capture the character of the trees and the architecture, rendering them instantly recognizable. These influential prints are highly collectable and much more affordable than the large oil paintings, sometimes starting on auction at estimates as low as R8 000 to 10 000. But, particularly good examples, in pristine condition, are capable of realising much more such as when the linocut Doringboom, Potgietersrust realised a hammer price of R220 000 on Strauss & Co’s November 2020 virtual live auction after fiercely competitive bidding. In general, these works are selling for far more than they were a decade or so ago. 

Wilhelm van Rensburg, senior art specialist at Strauss & Co, curated A Space for Landscape, a retrospective of the artist’s work at the Standard Bank Art Gallery in Johannesburg, in 2015. “The exhibition had a broad demographic of visitors and, with every walkabout, I specifically asked them their opinion of the artworks and the artist’s portrayal of the South African landscape.  The reaction was overwhelmingly positive – I think the paintings speak to us on an unconscious level and have an almost universal appeal for people from all cultural backgrounds – they resonate with how we relate to land and landscape.”

The artist’s work has been included in important international art exhibitions, most notably Art of a Nation at the British Museum in 2016/2017. This showcased important pieces in South African art history, and Pierneef’s Tree in the Bushveld was exhibited along with Esther Mahlangu’s Ndebele-patterned BMW and the Mapungubwe golden rhino.

Pierneef’s work has always sold well at auction and in recent years it has outperformed all expectations, on both the local and international art markets, as the artist’s cultural significance continues to grow. “A Pierneef painting works just as well in a traditional country-house interior as it does in pared-down minimalist modern surroundings,” added Van Rensburg.

The artist boasts a high 85% sell-through rate at Strauss & Co, and to date the auction house has sold works by Pierneef to the value of over R260 million rands.

Strauss & Co is currently inviting consignments of Pierneef oil paintings, watercolours, etchings, linocuts or drawings for its forthcoming artist-focused Virtual Live Auction that will take place in July.

Entries for consignments close on Friday 18 June 2021. 

Jacob Hendrik Pierneef; Bushveld Game Reserve.

Jacob Hendrik Pierneef; Doringboom, Potgietersrust.

Jacob Hendrik Pierneef; Okahandjaberg.

Jacob Hendrik Pierneef; Study for Klipriviersberg, Alberton.

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