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Back down the N9, through Aberdeen and heading for the coast. I stop to take a look at one of those karoo dammetjies, the kind that Kobus Kloppers paints so beautifully:

bel vir kobus

Left at Uniondale and to Knysna via the fabled Prince Alfred pass. Another one of Uberpassbuilder Thomas Bain’s creations, the pass was built in 1867 and is 80k of dirt snaking through the majestic Outeniqua Mountains. I don’t know if Oom Henk took this path on his way to paint the Knysna Heads, but he should have. It’s wild, in an Alpine kind of way. Very…um….German.

Germanicus Africana

Pierneef was the son of a Dutch immigrant to Paul Kruger’s Transvaal Republic. He spent some of his school years in Holland, and visited Europe again in 1925. He was influenced by Art Nouveau and there are links to Piet Mondrian in the flatness and simplification of planes (and the obsessive renderings of trees). You can place him in the tradition of Northern European Romanicism. While the Francophone painters of the South sought to capture the passing moment, the depressed Northern painters looked to the landscape for something lasting and transcendental. This often involved intense almost scientific study of botany and geology.

Mondrian 'The Blue Tree" 1910

Pierneef, Boomstudies, Waterberg. 1915

After an hour of driving in honeyed afternoon light, you get into the belt of Knysna forest and the tall trees loom. I’m dozing now, tired out by all this beauty. Right at the end of the pass, some wit has left a message:

ja boet, loer is my job

Back up the pass from Prince Albert now, sketchbook in hand. On both sides of the road there are outrageous rock formations, shaped by mighty forces:

I get to the site around 12.30 and settle in. A lot of the sites I’ve been to have changed since Pierneef painted them, the landscape encroached upon by highways or housing. But this is unchanged since Thomas Bain and his crew hammered their way through here in 1886. The year of Pierneef’s birth. (And Johannesburg’s too)

built to last:stonewalling at the site

But the gravel road is showing the wear and tear of fairly high traffic volumes, so while I’m doing the watercolour I make a list  of the passing traffic: Fortuner, Isuzu, Land Rover, Toyota sedan, 2 cyclists, Suzuki, Bakkie, two Dutch people in a small car, Correctional Services Toyota, Poephol in a Prado, CA Yaris, Silver merc, Silver Toyota, White Toyota, 2 cyclists at speed, Landcruiser, Party of 8 cyclists, Isuzu bakkie van Bredasdorp, Kia, Colt with a Staffie, Big yellow truck (12.30 – 4.30pm). The cyclists, by the way, had pedalled over from the Oudtshoorn side and after spending the night in PA were coming back over the next day. Eina.

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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