GP Canitz Art Exhibition at Muratie

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Art Exhibition of well-known South African artist GP Canitz, who owned the Estate in the 1940's till 1950's.

George Paul Canitz was born on 11 August 1873 in Leipzig, Germany, and grew up in Saxony. From an early age Paul loved drawing and in his middle age could still remember the first pencil he possessed. At school het drew caricatures of the teachers until an admonitory letter to his father put an end to that. Paul got a ticking-off home but also a paint-box for Christmas. According to him, that Christmas was one of the happiest days of his life.

Canitz moved to Paris where he was lectured by a Russian artist. Paul was full of admiration for his teacher and described him as a “fine, broad-minded man”. After this Paul lived only for Saturdays and his charcoal and chalk. The lesson was usually in the country where sketches were made of nature. If it rained that day, still-lifes were painted In the studio.

Paul’s parents, however, were not thrilled by the fact that painting occupied such an important place in their son’s life, since they had planned a military career for him. Paul nevertheless succeeded in studying at the Academy of Saxony in Dresden, where he obtained a diploma in painting. After this he went to Italy to study the masterpieces of the Rennaissance. During his stay on Muratie he often thought with longing of that time. He also went to Paris where he associated with the plein air school of painters. Here he received lessons in portrait-painting and pastel. His Paris stay was interrupted for some months by a study tour to the Netherlands, where he studied and copied the works of Frans Hals in Haarlem and Amsterdam.

During his studies, he developed a chest ailment, for which the doctor recommended dry air, hence him taking a ship to Swakopmund. This was in 1907. The local doctor sent him to the high-lying interior where he quickly recovered his strength and began to paint again. The light and atmosphere, however, were so different from that of Europe that he could not give expression to what he felt and observed. According to him he had to find and develop a new technique.

After about three years in which he painted and hunted in South-West Africa (now Namibia) and the Kalahari, he moved to the Boland, where Stellenbosch with its oak trees so enchanted him that he decided to stay there. His wife and two little daughters had in the meantime come out from Germany and the family settled in the town in 1910. Originally they lived on a small-holding near Doornbosch and later in Mark Street opposite the Rhenish School. Here he opened his own art school. In the Canitz collection there is a letterhead which announces in Art Noveau type lettering “School of Art, G.P. Canitz, Stellenbosch”

Paul was also a temporary lecturer in art at the University of Stellenbosch.

There are different versions of how it came about that Canitz saw Muratie for the first time. According to Annemie (Alberta Ellen Annemarie, Paul & Johanna Hartz’s eldest daughter) she and “Daddy” got lost one day when they were on their way on horseback to a party on Knorhoek. Canitz was very impressed with Muratie’s homestead with its oak-trees and when, shortly after that, it came on the market he concluded a partnership with Georg Muschner and together they bought the farm.

In the mornings Paul, the painter, would don his white overall and paint in his studio from nine until one o’clock. In the afternoons he farmed –supervised the fermentation in the concrete vats, or walked through the vineyards tasting grapes here and there. After five it was time for his great love and, in riding-breeches and leggings, he would leap into the saddle. “Without riding I cannot exist,” Canitz at the age of 75 declared to a reporter from Die Ruiter. A painting by Toni Aron, which still hangs in the sitting-room of the homestead, shows Paul in his early thirties in white riding-breeches and red frock-coat. The painting was in his old age a reminder of the days when he hunted regularly on horseback in the woods of Germany.

The studio, where Paul painted, was on a terrace near the house. Canitz and Wynand Viljoen built it all on their own with bricks that they made themselves. According to the artist, an anti-communist friend who emigrated from Germany to South Africa brought with him a grand piano. The instrument arrived safely, but the expensive carpet in which it was wrapped was badly damaged and was left behind on Muratie. Paul decided to build a house round the carpet and the studio was completed eighteen months later. According to a contemporary reporter the room was filled with a great number of paintings of statesmen, women and scenes from nature (De Waal 1948: 17).

Every year Paul Canitz left Muratie to undertake sketching tours in the Western Province, Natal, Free State, Basutoland (now Lesotho), Mashonaland (north-east Zimbabwe), Namaqualand, and Transvaal. During his first years in Stellenbosch things were difficult as far as sales were concerned, since the community was not interested in original oil-paintings. Later, on the other hand, he could hardly keep up as art-lovers streamed to Muratie to buy his work. G.P. Canitz earned fame with his nature-scenes and homesteads among rolling hills and oak-trees. He painted in a traditional, realistic style and used romantic colours. His medium was mainly oil, but pastels were also used and many drawings were made.

The painter held several exhibitions in Cape Town, and also took part in the British Empire Exhibition in Wembley, England in 1924. In 1947, at the age of 74, he painted 24 landscapes in the Kruger National Park and also made several studies of wild animals. These works, along with other South African landscapes were exhibited in London, Paris and Hamburg in 1950 (Nolant 1977: 135-136).

Canitz was not only a wine-farmer and artist of note, but was also known as a man who practised and understood the art of courtesy. He liked to receive friends at home and then from the front stoep point out Table Mountain in the distance. After that they were led through the house (“so built that you can walk through it from one beautiful scene to another”) to look at Simonsberg, which according to him represented the sleeping Napoleon. During the winter months there was a fire in the hearth.

On Sundays many guests came out from the city and relaxed on a terrace with a swimming pool and cypresses from Italy. In the Canitz Collection there are several photographs of the bathers, the girls in the latest bathing-costumes of the time, often with cigarette in hand.

The real visiting-place, the “Kneipzimmer” or drinking-room was established in an outbuilding near the swimming pool. A low doorway gave access to a small domed room with a circle of benches, where people from all over regularly held merry parties. The roof and walls were covered with paintings, maxims, and signatures: The writing is in Greek, French, German and Afrikaans and Hans Endler, from the Conservatorium, even composed a piece of music on the wall.

The courteous Canitz was in every way a remarkable man. His outlook on life and the wines of Muratie, as his advertising brochure promised, must have contributed to this.