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Bonhams Next South African Art Sale Will Be The Biggest Of Its Kind

Artist Who Decorated South Africa House Leads Bonhams Sale

A painting of baobab trees by Jacob Hendrik Pierneef (1886-1957) is a powerful illustration of this artist was selected to bring South African Art to London when he decorated South Africa House in Trafalagar Square.

south-africa-art.jpgBonhams fourth and largest sale of South African Art, 450 lots divided into two sales, one at Bonhams in Knightsbridge on September 9 and one in Bonhams in Bond Street on September 10 is expected to set new records. The sale features the iconic Pierneef image, The Baobab Tree, which is estimated to sell for £300,000. The artist presented this painting to the South African High Commissioner to Britain in the 1930’s, Charles te Water, as a gift after he visited Pierneef’s studio and admired the unfinished picture.

The picture was exhibited at London’s Tate Gallery in an ‘Overseas Exhibition of South African Art’, in 1948.

While Charles Te Water was serving as the South African High Commissioner in London, Pierneef was given the commission to paint the murals for South Africa House in London. On 27 June 1933 the Pierneef family left Pretoria for London. Pierneef completed the murals by May 1934 and accepted a further commission from Te Water to paint five works for the dining-room in South Africa House. The room was officially opened on 31 May 1934 and was known as the ‘Pierneef Room’.

Charles te Water was close friends with the artist and June te Water, his granddaughter recounts that on a visit to Pierneef’s studio her grandfather saw ‘The Baobab Tree’ languishing, unfinished in a corner of the atelier. Te Water encouraged Pierneef that the work was a fine painting and that he should complete the picture. This he duly did and then presented the painting to te Water.

This painting is unquestionably a product of Pierneef at his finest. The majestic baobab tree stands proud dominating the landscape, with the five people at the foot of the tree and the signs of human habitation in the background, dwarfed by comparison. It is reasonable to assume that The Baobab Tree was painted around 1934. It is certainly consistent with Pierneef’s style at the time and there is another painting of a baobab tree painted in1934 which in terms of style and composition is very similar to The Baobab Tree. The tree and, indeed the landscape and figures, have an emblematic quality. This painting, therefore, is a magnificent example of Pierneef’s achievement in creating a landscape painting that is uniquely and essentially South African.

The 1948 Tate exhibition was the first major undertaking by the South African Association of Arts. A panel of Association members with the assistance of John Rothenstein of the Tate formed the selection committee and the exhibition subsequently toured various centres in the United Kingdom and Europe.

The Bonhams South African Art Sale on September 9 and 10 also includes the strongest collection of Irma Stern’s yet seen in London, no fewer than 38 paintings. Among them are a number at the £300,000 mark including `Swazi Girl’ and `Dahlias’.

Giles Peppiatt, Head of South African Art at Bonhams, the international fine art auction house which has almost single handedly built the South African Art Market in Europe, said of his next sale: “We have had such a growth of interest that we have had to extend the sale to two days and two venues to allow us to exhibit the works as they deserve. We are seeing a maturing market for South African Art with a greater appreciation by non South African buyers. Increasingly the market is demanding the best but also paying greater and greater record prices. Artists like Maggie Laubscher, Irma Stern and Pierneef are receiving prices and critical recognition which would have delighted them had they lived to see it. The 450 lots in this sale is a fantastic cross section of some of the very best South African work ever seen anywhere in the world.”

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