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The Master of Green – Pieter Wenning

The Master Of Green – Pieter Wenning

What we see around us is merely our theme upon which we ourselves must create the melody. – Pieter Wenning

Though he lived in Pretoria and Johannesburg it is as a painter of the Cape that we best know Pieter Wenning. The artist first ventured to the southern tip of Africa through the initiative of D.C. Boonzaier, the influential cartoonist and father of Gregoire Boonzaier. A Wenning painting in the window of De Bussy’s shop first attracted D.C. Boonzaier’s attention. He was captivated and sought to bring Wenning to the Cape. Boonzaier prevailed upon a number of fellow art lovers to contribute to a fund with enabled Wenningto travel to the Cape to spend three months of 1916 working and marked the beginning of an enduring friendship. While already an accomplished draughtsman, Wenning yearned to work extensively in oils, and the support of Boonzaier and other patrons allowed the artist to embrace this passion. A similar trip was soon sponsored by a group of Johannesburg patrons at the behest of Ernest Lezard, who had sold Wenning’s works on his auctions.

528.5The moderate climate, the mist, the rain, and the wind meshed well with Wenning’s temperament and sensibilities. The lushness of the Cape landscape, and the stimulation of the light and the atmosphere, seduced Wenning and reminded him of the environment of his upbringing in Holland, which contrasted sharply with the dry, sunbleached Highveld landscape. He had found his creative home.

The tall, refined artist would leave his accommodation early in the day, walking for miles in his broad-brimmed hat and voluminous raincoat, his materials tucked under his arm as he sought a scene that captured his imagination. Wenning had a ruthless eye, selective of the inclusion, or exclusion, of details and elements of a scene. His focus was less on reproducing the appearance of what he saw before him, but rather portraying the intrinsic character that moved him through his deep understanding, and adept use, of colour and tone, light and shade. Using thick pigments and an impasto technique with vigorous brushstrokes, Wenning would layer vibrant, yet often subtle, tones over a dark imprimatura, which lent strength to the colours layered upon it and often contributed a dark outline to objects and areas, alongside the use of the calligraphic line that is such a feature of his works on paper that he had absorbed from his study of Japanese art, as in the young vines in the foreground, and the leafless trees of other compositions.

As has been noted by, among others, Preller, Boonzaier, Lipschitz and Berman, Wenning is perhaps the pre-eminent master of the shade of green in the South African canon. As can be seen in this landscape, there are at least five shades of green represented; and of the five Wenning works that appear on this sale, each work features green to a greater or lesser degree. Wenning’s personal style, his sympathy for, and appreciation of, the landscape around him, his strong intelligence, artistic sensibilities and his creative decisions all came together to form a visual vocabulary that would inspire generations of admirers and imitators and has come to be known as the Cape Impressionist style. -L.C.

Boonzaier, G. and Lipschitz, I. L. Wenning, Cape Town, 1949, Unie-Volkspers Beperk
Wenning, H. My Father, 1976, H.Timmins
Scholtz, J. du P. DC Boonzaier and Pieter Wenning: Verslag van n’ vriendskap. 1973, Tafelberg
Berman, E. Art and Artists of South Africa, AA Balkema, 1983
Berman, E. Painting In South Africa, 1993, Southern Book Publishers

Lot 528 on our Johannesburg November Auction, Session 3, Monday 25 November, 7pm

Pieter Willem Frederick Wenning
(South African 1873 – 1921)


R 400 000 – R 600 000

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