by Herman Charles Bosman
During the past weeks I have been living on a farm on the Muldersdrift Road, thirteen miles out of town. A private bus passes the farm at about six o’clock in the morning, on the way to the city. At that hour it is still dark, and it is not always easy to distinguish, from the glare of their headlights, between the bus and the farm trucks carrying agricultural produce to market. Consequently, since there are no regular bus stops on the route, I have to describe the accepted hitchhiker’s arc with my thumb each time I see headlights. Sometimes, when I have signalled a lorry, and the vehicle happens to draw up, I get a lift as far as Newtown.
The fascination of driving along the country roads on the outskirts of Johannesburg in the early dawn has not yet begun to pall on me. And I have several times wondered why our South African artists don’t paint the early morning landscape more often. When the koppies and the valleys are swimming in mists. And plantations are dark masses with soft grey light behind them. And the blurred horisons are wrapped in theology. Instead of which, our painters almost invariably limit themselves to canvases of landscapes in the full glare of day or with flamboyant sunrise or sunset effects. Perhaps they leave that part of the day alone – that part of the day before the sky is red – because it is so much more difficult to catch those griseous tones, leaden and ashen-silver tints and neutral greens, and patches that are the colour of doves’ wings; it is not just anybody that can cover a canvas with different kinds of slatey greys and still not make the thing look like a night scene. It takes a real artist to paint a landscape in dun shades – and yet to reveal it as a world filled with morning’s clean light.
It is also difficult to get that particular part of the morning onto canvas because it is an effect that doesn’t stay very long. In about ten minutes’ time the sky is streaked with crimson and the magic of the grey light is gone, and you are left with the orthodox ‘Sunrise on the Veld’. Another reason why paintings of the misty pre-sunrise morning are rare in South African art is because it is hard for the South African artist to get up that early.