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Pierneef’s version of Table Mountain. Puzzling, this. For a while I thought it was the mountain from the Somerset West side (in the pre-Khayalithsa,era of course.) I made discreet appeals for help and my Capetonian friends directed me to the other side. The view is of the mountain from Signal Hill, more or less at the base of Lion’s Head. Pierneef was up to his tricks here again, cannily hiding the left side of the mountain beneath cloud, and obfuscating the receding Apostles on the right. Faced with the often-depicted panorama, he’s zoomed in to make it look like a free-standing peak.

JH Pierneef .Table Mountain. Oil on canvas, c1932

JH Pierneef .Table Mountain. Oil on canvas, c1932

Standing at the site, this is what you see:

The wide angle shot

The wide angle shot

And if you zero in you get this:

DSCF6299 (600x800)

Now what about those hulking great pine trees? A little bit further up the Signal Hill drive, I found them:

DSCF6307 (600x800)

I reckon these pines, the ones in the Pierneef, once extended closer to Table Mountain and have since been cut back or burnt. And of course there’s the cable car enclosure – an extra bit of concrete peak – when did that get built?

I revisited the site on a hot afternoon last week and scrambling over the edge and down a steep slope settled down to a watercolour. I was in another little world here, sitting on a bed of pine needles with the muted sounds of the city below on the left, and a cooling breeze coming over the hill from Camp’s Bay. There were occasional voices of walkers or cars on the road above me to remind me of the parallel world that I’d briefly left behind. And also subliminal fears, like what would happen if I was fallen upon by a crazed Tik- head? These things have happened on the mountain. All I had for self-defence was a blade I use to sharpen my pencils. Mind you, that could do some damage if it it hits the jugular…ag no man, just look at the mountain! Or think of Turner in Venice in 1840, making the world’s most serene and beautiful watercolours, prowling the streets armed with a dagger to fight off the Venetian tsotsis. (Fortunately he never had to.)

At one point, a German couple appeared above me. The man came down a bit, slipping on the pine needles. He scrambled about in the undergrowth, with the woman shouting instructions from above…”ja, das ist schon, nein, das ist nich schon” and so on. I have no idea what they were looking for, but the Teutonic soundtrack was somehow dead right for the Alpine vista. The watercolour came out ok, and I gathered my things together and headed down the hill for a cup of late afternoon tea.


What emerged out of that was the recolouration I’d been hoping for (you don’t quite know what it is, but you recognise it when you see it.) I also lost some lekker paintings within paintings


lost Picasso sculpture


Then there was the small matter of The Sea, the dreaded sea. After numerous false starts I remembered Anton Chapman‘s advice about putting down a base of deep red. He has painted a lot of sea and knows his stuff. A layer of Venetian Red and some editing decisions later:


Red Sea


And after quite a bit more tweaking:


Cape Town Personae


The beast is laid to rest at last.

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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