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PELLISIER GALLERY
TODAY THE PELLISSIER GALLERY IS A TREASURE HOUSE OF SOUTH AFRICAN ART, WITH ITS PRINCIPAL FOCUS THE PIERNEEF SAN MURAL PAINTINGS.
Another "treasure" not to be missed on any visit to Ficksburg is the S H Pellissier Gallery, originally built as a school hall, and now home not only to murals by Pierneef, one of this country's "old masters", but also a comprehensive collection of paintings by top South African artists.

The sandstone hall was built in 1921 for the Ficksburg School at the instigation of the then head of the Orange Free State Public Works Department, Reenen J van Reenen. He and a friend, Samuel Henri Pellissier, headmaster of the school at the time, often visited rock painting sites in caves in the Ficksburg district and the beauty and force of these images had such a profound and lasting effect on Van Reenen that in 1921 he told Mr Todd, who was then building the new sandstone school hall, to change his plans to incorporate recessed wall panels measuring an average 1,2 m by 2,9 m, as well as a continuous frieze, into the interior of the new hall.

The following year, Van Reenen arranged for J H Pierneef, then a promising artist and lecturer at the Pretoria and Heidelberg Teaching Colleges, to paint the murals in the panels and on the frieze with his interpretation of San rock paintings. The 36-year-old Pierneef began the Ficksburg commission on 16 February 1922 and, when the school hall was officially opened on 22 April, the artist gave a public lecture explaining his work. The imagery in the murals was derived from colour copies of rock paintings made by Stow between 1867 and 1880 from sites in the Free State and Eastern Cape. Seven of the eight Pierneef panels were based on rock paintings from two rock art sites in Rouxville, one in Smithfield and three in Zastron in the Free State and from a site in Barkley East in the Eastern Cape.

The locations of the original San imagery for the eighth panel are unknown. The panels and frieze are painted in red, ochre, white and black from pigments very similar in origin and colour to those used by San artists and which Pierneef collected from the area. He stated that: "The colours on these stones with mosses growing on them, they are the colours of the landscape where I found them", which was an affirmation of the uniquely South African inspiration for his work. Today the Pellissier Gallery is a treasure house of South African art, with its principal focus the Pierneef San murals. It also houses a collection of paintings by prominent South African artists, each, since 1927, donated to the Ficksburg High School by its outgoing matric class. Thanks to them, as well as Van Reenen, Pellissier and, of course, Pierneef, Ficksburg is today the custodian of a valuable and unique inheritance. To view the galley you need to make an appointment with Renette Humphreys 084 664 3491 GPS Co-ordinates S 28º52.122' E027º52.772'