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Three images of dogs in painting that come to mind:

Jan van Eyck’s ” Arnolfini Wedding” from 1434 is one of the early wonders of oil painting, and it shows the superior capabilities of oil over tempera. At the feet of the bridal couple stands a little hound, a Flemish poodle of sorts, every hair of its coat meticulously present. The dog stands for fidelity, but it also announces its proud ownership of the marital couple. Below is a detail from Titian’s “The death of Acteon,” in the National Gallery, London.

IMG_20140719_0002(0) (640x563)

It was painted in 1560 and shows Acteon being turned into a deer and set upon by his own hunting dogs. This as punishment for spying on the bathing goddess Diana. Rather harsh, that.

There is Goya’s “Head of a dog” from the early 1820’s.

Head of a Dog.(detail)

Head of a Dog.(detail)

The dog appears marooned in quicksand and stares up into a vast expanse of nothingness. A remarkably modern and poignant painting, done on the walls of his farmhouse near Madrid and only seen by the public many years after his death.

I’ve done a lot of drawings of our Africanis over the last four years. Here she is with her farm buddy (the aptly named Blackie) having an afternoon nap . Unusually, both dogs kept still long enough for me to make the drawing. The Overbergian landscape was washed in with gouache and watercolour afterwards.

Two dogs sleeping. Gouache. 24 x 27 cm. 2014

Two dogs sleeping. Gouache. 24 x 27 cm. 2014

So how do you draw a dog?

For starters, we can’t make rules that apply to the anatomy, like we do with the human figure. (The head goes into the body 6 times, and so on). There’s just too much variety of canine form.

I suggest you start with a sleeping dog, and get to work rapidly with a sharp pencil. Keep an eye on the negative spaces and don’t give up. You’ll soon get the hang of the alien physiology. There are no tricks, no formulas, it’s just a matter of observation and developing your visual memory. You may want to bear in mind John Ruskin’s words; “The true zeal and patience of a quarter of an hour are better than the sulky and inattentive labour of a whole day.” Your pencil will soon start to tell the truth. And hopefully the sleeping dog will lie.

So in 1870, John Ruskin was installed as Oxford University’s first Fine Arts Professor. Thus was born the modern art institution, where the production of theory is at least as important as knowing the craft of artmaking. And Ruskin wasn’t short of ideas. Or ambition. His inaugural lecture was a call to arms:

“We are undegenerate in race. We have the firmness to govern and the grace to obey. Will you youths of England make your country … a mistress of learning and the Arts? This is what England must do or perish: she must found colonies as fast and far as she is able … seizing every fruitful piece of waste ground she can set her foot on, and there teaching these her colonists that … their first aim is to advance the power of England by land and sea.”

In the audience that day was the young Cecil Rhodes, and we all know how keenly he took up the project:

hier kom Cecil!

Ruskin also thought it important for the youngsters of the chosen race to do a bit of physical work, so he set his students to digging roads. Cecil, who was frail, did not partake, but toiling along with the rest was an icy young man called Alfred Milner. Later on, he got rid of Paul Kruger’s rustic Republic and dragged the Transvaal into the modern age.

With cane in hand. Mr Milner

So what has this to do with Pierneef, I hear you ask? Well, the Boer War was a cataclysm for the Afrikaner people.  Aside from creating a bitter sense of loss, it unified the Volk and gave them heroes.  Those are crucial ingredients for the birth of Nationalism. And Afrikaner Nationalism is a subject that often crops up when Oom Henk is mentioned.

O Hel!


"Traveller looking over a sea of fog"


German painter Casper Friedrich (1774 -1840), was a contemporary of JMW Turner and friend of Goethe. His solitary figures peer into the landscape, inviting us into their world of melancholia and awe. Rather than painting traditional religious subjects, Friedrich depicts the encounter with landscape. It’s no accident that these works emerged as Europe industrialised and the Church weakened. They compensated for the loss of both Nature and God. I don’t know if the godless philosopher Nietzsche (1844 – 1900) ever saw Friedrich’s work, but the solitary mountain wanderer would surely have approved of it.

In the Jura region of France, another lone mountain man and painter was jotting down his sensations: “The clear green streams wind along their well-known beds; and under the dark quietness of the undisturbed pines there spring up such company of  joyful flowers as I know not the like of among all the blessings of the earth”.  John Ruskin (1819 – 1900) was England’s most influential Victorian art critic. He churned out volumes of impenetrable but poetic writing. He hated the demolition of old buildings. He disliked mountaineers. He didn’t like the march of Progress.

But the flower lover was no hippy: “My continual aim has been to show the eternal superiority of some men to others … and to show also the advisability of appointing such persons to guide, lead, or even to compel and subdue their inferiors, according to their better knowledge and wiser will.”


Ruskin as an Imperialist. Oil on canvas(2005)


J H Pierneef’s Station Panels are cornerstones of South African landscape painting. They were placed in the old Johannesburg Station as adverts to travel the country.

But did these alluring places ever really exist? And how have they changed?

Taking up the invitation to travel 80 years later, Carl Becker set off to find out.

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