Weekend Argus (Sunday Edition)
Beauty of fire and light
The Vineyard Hotel in Newlands houses some of SA master ceramicist Esias Bosch’s finest works
IT IS not often a hotel can claim to be a true patron of the arts – but this is the case at one of Cape Town’s most historic hotels. On display at the Vineyard Hotel and Spa in Newlands is a magnificent collection of Hendrik Pierneef woodcuts and engravings, as the well as the largest and most valuable collection of the works of the late Esias Bosch.
Bosch is regarded by many as South Africa’s pre-eminent potter and during his lifetime he built up an international reputation.
The hotel’s murals are mostly large and imposing. The most prominent is an 8m by 1.5m piece made up of five adjoining panels behind the reception desk, which has three circular scenes of typical South African landscapes – Karoo, winelands and Table Bay
Also in the foyer, visitors will come across two of Bosch’s bestknown pieces: a white crane standing in a rippling vlei against a background of reeds, and a still-life of gleaming white flowers in a vase set against a dark patterned wall.
Towards the lounge in a corridor is a Namaqualand flower scene in which Bosch has adopted Seurat’s pointillist technique and Van Gogh’s tendency to create halos around the sun and other light points. Upstairs in the conference centre there are more large Bosch murals in an Impressionist style.
The hotel has a total of 40 Bosch pieces, all characterised by a profusion of rich colours, especially the expensive gold glazes Bosch favoured.
Bosch also created a giant pot with several overflow channels which forms a fountain outside the lifestyle shop, and another multitiered semi-circular blue-tiled fountain in the hotel’s dining room.
Kitty Petousis, the wife of Francois Petousis, the hotel’s founder, says her husband commissioned new artworks from Bosch every time he extended the hotel – which he did regularly.
Francois, says Kitty, never argued or bargained with Bosch and always accepted his fairly high prices. This was not only because he believed Bosch to be an outstanding artist but because he thought ceramic murals were ideal hotel decoration as they appealed to the highbrow artist who understands the skill and the technical knowhow required to produce such artworks, and to the ordinary guest who simply appreciates the colour and beauty.
Bosch was introduced to Francois by Kitty, who had known him and his partner Valerie (later his wife) when all three were students in the UK. Kitty was studying dietetics and Bosch had been given a scholarship that enabled him to be apprenticed to three of the UK’s top potters, Dora Billington, Michael Cardew and Bernard Leach.
Back in South Africa, Bosch was put on the artistic map by two major mural commissions, one for the Schlesinger Building and one for the departures hall in what was then Jan Smuts Airport. The fee for the latter enabled Bosch to buy an entire koppie near White River and it was there that he built the giant kiln required to fire his big ceramic panels horizontally.
The site was also suitable because locals could supply large quantities of wattle for firing the kiln cheaply – Bosch was at that stage a convert to wood firing as he believed it imparted certain subtle tones to the glazes.
Wilma Cruise, writing in her book Contemporary Ceramics in South Africa, said that at the time Bosch pioneered the use of new glazes and firing techniques and became recognised internationally for his technical skill. “His work,” wrote Cruise, “is reminiscent of Monet… What adds a unique dimension to Bosch’s tiles is the glossy depth that has been achieved: light is literally trapped and reflected in the strata of glass and colour that have been added, layer by layer and firing by firing, to the surface of the tile.”
Some years ago Bosch told Francois Petousis he was giving up ceramics and going back to his first love, painting. Petousis immediately said he would buy his first painting when it was complete and it turned out to be an ethereal landscape that today hangs in the hotel lounge.
Bosch died in 2010, and so ended a friendship with the Petousis family that had lasted almost 60 years. Petousis died last year. But the Bosch link to the hotel continues: his son Anton created several giant Ali Baba type pots on display there, and his daughter Esra is the creator of a set of oval plates displayed in the breakfast room.
For further information contact Stewart Banner at The Vineyard Hotel, 021 657 4500.