A visit to the exquisite, Moorish-themed The Orient in Elandsfontein, a terracotta, palace-like hotel peaking through bushveld and treetops, 25km from Pretoria, is not only a ‘bucket list’ destination for fans of luxury getaways and award-winning, five-star dining (see my separate review article under Food and Leisure). Nestled in the Francolin Conservancy, The Orient is also a haven for art-lovers, who have a treasure trove of treats to view in three large galleries in the Orient’s leafy surrounds. Other good news is that more galleries are planned there.
BILLY SUTER reports.
MARI Dartnell, the petite, elegant and friendly art curator and general manager at The Orient, near Pretoria, nods her head vigorously, throws open hands to her sides then chuckles, when it is suggested there seems no end to the impressive art collections that greet visitors to The Orient.
“Ja, you’re absolutely right,” she says, going on to point out that after having first opened a museum accommodating many superb bronze works, large and small, by celebrated South African sculptor Tienie Prichard, she and her husband – The Orient’s wine director, Cobus du Plessis – recently completed two new large, two-storey galleries closer to the boutique hotel’s entrance.
The Orient’s first museum, The Tienie Pritchard Museum, at the bottom end of the Orient’s lush gardens, a short stroll from the hotel, was established in 2007. That was a year or so after Mari, Cobus and their uber-talented daughter, Chantel Dartnell, multi-award-winning chef at The Orient’s fine-dining Mosaic restaurant, opened their five-star establishment.
To keep improving and developing the family’s art collection, Mari and Cobus constantly acquire new paintings, sculptures, art nouveau antiques and other collectables which are displayed throughout The Orient and also in the 10 individually themed suites.
“Since the inception of our collection we have encountered outstanding local and international works of art, and with special exhibitions and frequent changes in the arrangement of the permanent collection, there is always something original on every visit to The Orient,’ states the getaway’s website.
The Tienie Pritchard Museum is special in that it is the result of a long friendship between the artist and avid collectors of his sculptures, Cobus and Mari.
Pritchard was commissioned by The Orient’s owners to create a large bronze of Mari with the cheetah Nandi, which was entrusted to Mari’s care by a sanctuary for threatened species in Hoedspruit, because the animal was born with a digestive defect that required special care. It was expected to live only six months.
When Nandi died at the age of four, Mari wanted to immortalise the memory of their relationship with the unique piece of sculpture. It now stands in their home in the Francolin Conservancy, but an early model by Pritchard is displayed in The Orient’s Tienie Pritchard museum.
Mostly highlighting Pritchard’s nude and semi-nude figures, often with animal figures or objects of animal origin, and depicted in a classical realist style, the museum’s bronze sculptures, textured or polished, are breathtaking in their detail and beauty.
The museum, which has many sculptures of historical significance, displays the bronzes on grey-white marble pedestals, some of them under skylights.
Keep an eye out for sculptures of Joan of Arc, Fallen Angel, Cleopatra, King Shaka, a terrific and large piece depicting the Persian slave market circa 1800 and another of my favourites, a large 1978 piece titled Discovery of Gold, originally commissioned for an arcade in Pretoria and removed after some political controversy.
Fascinating news and reviews of the works on show, as well as info relating to controversy involving some, is included among the gallery’s press clippings, photos and plaque information, making this a rewarding perspective of the career of one of the country’s top artists.
A striking, life-size bronze Pritchard sculpture that I admired in the museum when I first visited The Orient just over a year ago – that of the biblical Bathsheba leaving a bath, flanked by two lions on ornate pedestals – now has been given pride of place in the wonderful garden in the courtyard that separates The Orient’s two new galleries in the new Francolin Conservancy Museum complex.
Both two-storeys high, in terracotta and with wonderful arches and balcony areas, these galleries offer varied art, one of them still being in the process of being curated when I visited in mid-December.
Mari explains that Cobus now has a plan to add another, two-storey, circular building at the end of the two new galleries. It will have a domed top, she says, and will have a sunken garden that is likely to accommodate a tea garden.
The gallery that opened at The Orient around March 2019 is largely dedicated to South African impressionist painter Adriaan Boshoff and is a modern, expansive space, beautifully designed and curated by Mari and Cobus after they drew inspiration during visits to galleries in the US, Paris, Brussels and The Netherlands.
Nearly 90m in length, the gallery is a delight and I could easily have spent half a day there soaking up the wonders of impressionist Boshoff’s 140 or so paintings on display.
There are landscape scenes and farm paintings. Also lovingly displayed are the artist’s figure paintings in charcoal and acrylic washes, as well as his beautiful capturing of floral beauty and impressive still-life creations, in addition to varied sketches and drawings.
Particularly impressive is the fiery glow of enchantment that is The Streets of My Youth, Boshoff’s last work, uncompleted, which is on show a few steps away from a display of a simulated studio showing Boshoff’s easels, work clothes, brushes and canvasses with works in progress at the time of his death in 2007. Boshoff died in his studio while working on The Streets of My Youth.
Other wings of the museum accommodate works by the likes of Hugo Naude, William Timlin, Alexander Rose-Innes, Terrance McCaw, Gwelo Goodman, Cecil Higgs, Nita Spillhouse, W H Coetzer, Conrad Theys and Tinus de Jongh, among others.
If you wish to pay a visit to the galleries, or find out more information, get in touch with Mari Dartnell at firstname.lastname@example.org or +27 (0) 12 371 2902/3/4.