The Bigger Picture
Pierneef Permanent Collection
all at the Rupert Museum, Stellentia Avenue, Stellenbosch
The Bigger Picture
The first Cape Town Triennial was held in 1982 – it was an ambitious project that quickly became an institution for anyone in the visual arts field. The Bigger Picture shows selected works from the permanent collection, many of which were acquired during the Triennial Period in the 1980s and ’90s and, while it features some of our larger artworks, the title specifically refers to art production in the late twentieth century.
The Triennial shows gave voice to this unique period in South African history. Artists challenged the government and social conventions through resistance art, feminism and a new approach to traditional art materials. From the vast number of submissions accepted for the Triennial a selection was made by an appointed team of judges drawn from the national museums and art galleries around the country. The selected artworks would travel the country for a year, with the support of the Rembrandt van Rijn Art Foundation and various national art museums, stopping at eight national museums and galleries in all.
During a tumultuous time in South Africa’s political history the project gave agency to young artists and produced both great enthusiasm and heated debate as many of the artists approached socio-politics with scathing critique. It forced the formal art sector to recognise resistance art and gave rise to a continued development, both conceptually and practically, of new and unconventional mediums and techniques. It also served as a greater platform for feminist art, and critique on gender stereotypes was evident in this period.
The exhibition includes works such as Stanley Pinker’s Meeting at the Mountains of the Moon (1985), Tony Nkotsi’s Kariba (1993), Penny Siopis’ Still life with Watermelon and Other Things (1985), Willie Bester’s Crossroads (1991), William Kentridge’s The Conservationist’s Ball: Culling, Game Watching, Taming (1985), Tommy Motswai’s Grabbaburger (1988), Marion Arnold’s The Centre Cannot Hold (1986), Andrew Verster’s Iris A, B, C (1995), and Keith Dietrich’s Elliot Malekutu with Bicycle, Bucket and Bananas (1988), to name but a few.
The Bigger Picture features the products of artists both self-taught and formally trained. The Polly Street Centre, instrumental in giving guidance and support to urban black artists between 1952 – 1975 is felt, with works by both teachers and students on show, particularly among the sculpture pieces. The sculptural pieces were selected from a broader time period than the paintings and include Moses Kottler’s Nude Figure (1934), Gerard de Leeuw’s Sangoma (1962), Sydney Khumalo’s St Francis (1961), Eduardo Villa’s Dialogue (1988), Ezrom Legae’s Mother and Child (undated), Lucas Sithole’s Understanding (1977) and Wicthdoctor (1982), Bruce Arnott’s African Queen (undated) and an incised wood panel by Cecil Skotnes, Two Men and a Girl (1986). Also on show is a 16 meter wall installation by Michelle Nigrini consisting of 395 painted panels, entitled Colour Symphony (1991). This visual spectacle alone is worth a visit to the museum.
Or “the big five” a term the late Mrs Huberte Rupert used when she curated this display, features the works of five of her favourite artists – Jean Welz, Cecil Higgs, Maggie Laubser, Irma Stern and Anton van Wouw – most of whom she had close friendships with.
The exhibit boasts 27 Stern paintings and is an excellent representation of the development of her oeuvre. Works on show include: The Eternal Child (1916), an early painting of a war time girl in Berlin that held great importance to Stern and which she kept it as a talisman through most of her life; The Stone-Breaker (1920), a painting that was included in her first show in Cape Town; and several paintings from her famous Zanzibar Period.
Cecil Higgs and Maggie Laubser were both prominent female South African artists whose contributions are increasingly appreciated by both local and international art markets. Higgs was known for her unification of colour and form as well as her textured handling of the painted surface – Still Life with Statice (1963-67) with its painted surface that is both modelled and scraped is a wonderful example of this and Water Lilies (1969) is an excellent example of her later period.
Laubser, who painted in the German Expressionist style, was able to sensitively capture landscape and sitter alike. Her introspective approach is something that featured throughout her career and can be seen in both Woman (1920) and Portrait of a Girl (1930) as well as in one of her earlier works, the quiet pastoral scene, Cows (c 1913).
Jean Welz was a trained architect before switching over to painting and this influence is especially visible in his earlier still-life works. His figures, though voluptuous, are precisely articulated with emphasis on form and composition. This is often paired with a muted colour palette, as can be seen in Nude with Tapestry (1945). His almost mathematical preoccupation with line and composition is also evident in Still Life: Earthenware with Blackboard and Still Life with Avocado Pear and Pumpkin, both painted in 1945.
Van Wouw – though an accomplished draughtsperson and painter – is primarily known for his realist sculpture, a skill mastered through intense observation and an innate understanding of human form and gestures. Several of his most popular bronze casts are on show, including the Bushman Hunter (1902), Bad News (1907) and Sleeping Man (1907).
Pierneef Permanent Collection
By kind permission of the Transnet Foundation, the well-known Pierneef Johannesburg Railway Station panels are now on view at the Rupert Museum in Stellenbosch.
In 1929 Pierneef was commissioned by the South African Railways to produce thirty-two panels to be displayed in the concourse of the then new Park Station in Johannesburg. On 26 November 1932 the panels were unveiled.
The 32 panels are displayed in one of the halls with special lighting effects that bring out the pure force of Pierneef’s landscapes with his use of colour, brushstrokes, uniform levels and geometrical style. One can see how Pierneef was able to copy the atmosphere so unique to the varied parts of the country and yet not lose the association between the panels. In addition to the panels, a short film is shown depicting Pierneef’s life and artistic work.
Image: Irma Stern, The Eternal Child (detail), 1916, Oil on Board, 72.5 X 42cm. Image courtesy of the Rupert Art Foundation.