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This is one of my favourite paintings. Its called “The peace of Winter” and it’s by Bertha Everard King. If you’ve ever been in the Mpumalanga highlands in winter before the grass burns, you’ll get it. Cold, crystalline nights and glorious warm still days. Bertha trained as a concert pianist, then studied at the Slade art school in London. She came out to SA in 1903, and taught  for a while. In 1905 ,aged 32, she  married a farmer. The farm was called Bonnefoi, and it was on the great escarpment where the northern Drakensberg drops down to the lowveld. In this corner of Africa, she found her life-long subject. Like many landscape painters, hers was a long identification with the land, a slow distillation of its essence. In the Oliewenhuis Museum in Bloemfontein, I came upon another gem of hers

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This one’s called Winter in the Lowveld. Her later work has hints of Post Impressionism about it –  in 1921 she relocated to Paris for a five year painting sabbatical .You have to know what you’re doing to render those shadows on the hills – those are very tricky half tones. Then there’s the touch of chrome yellow for that last shaft of sunlight slipping through on the right. And the splodges of ultramarine in the darkest recesses of the mountain. (Double click on the image to get the close up, dear reader). She worked a lot outdoors, and had a hut built at one of her favourite haunts overlooking her beloved Komati river. Bertha died on the farm in 1965, aged 92.

 Bertha’s sister Edith was a good watercolourist,and Bertha’s daughters Ruth and Rosamund are significant painters too. Collectively they’re known as the Everard Group, and the lineage continues today in the work of Natal – based Nichola Leigh. Bertha’s standing as one of the pioneers of SA painting is secure although perhaps slightly overlooked. Remarkably, the group never descends into self parody: each generation shows innovation and individuality. I am delighted to see that the descendants of Bertha have a website up and running with some evocative pictures of the farm in the early days. (www.everard-group.com)

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