Gifberg is the North-Western corner of the Cape Fold Mountain belt and the Table Mountain Sandstone.  It stands as a welcoming sentinel to all coming South from Namibia.  North from here lie the vast plains and stark dry mountains and south lie watered mountains and valleys with vineyards and citrus groves.  Even the names change.  In the North from “Bitterfontein” (bitter spring), “Moedverloor” (Quail – “moed” is courage and “verloor” is lost), “Groothartseer” (literally “big heart sore” – something tragic happened there)  and “Douse the Glim” – (now there is a story) .  In the South Citrusdal (Citrus dale), Hebron, Vredendal (Peaceful dale I suppose).  “Gif” means “poison” and of course “berg” is a mountain.  Gifberg is named after Hyaenanche globosa, or Hyaena poison, a bush, endemic to the area.  The San people used to use the crushed seeds to make their deadly arrow poison.  The early farmers also used pounded seeds to poison hyaenas and other predators.   The poison acts on the heart, like strychnine.  So that is the mountain.

On the way North I sat next to the road in the late afternoon and painted the mountain.


There was a chilly wind blowing.  As I finished the watercolour I began to think more and more of pizza.  Pizza?  Out here?  Well, Vanrhynsdorp is a little town set under the Gifberg and if you ever go there, it is worth dropping in at the Phucifino (I didn’t want to ask) restaurant that make a good one.  And after the pizza I had enough time to drive North to Garies before darkeness fell.

Garies has it’s own story.

Here is the watercolour I did of Gifberg on my way home early on Saturday morning.  I had turned off the main road onto a farm road to sit and paint.  So it was very peaceful and fresh.  While I painted I heard a flock of Namaqua Sand Grouse fly over, whose call always reminds me of the desert in Namibia.  A very pleasant experience all in all.


The horizon below the mountain is actually straight.  In the painting it curves down on the right which weakens the effort a little – but there you are – stuff to remember in the studio.


4 thoughts on “Gifberg

  1. Wow, Stephen. I like both of these but the top one I could look at for hours. I love the patterns of all the open space, sky and land. There is no where else for the eye to go but that huge poison mountain. Thanks for the story, the colors, the view!

  2. Hey Stephen, Looks like I have to catch up with some of your posts. Loved reading all the definitions of the place names. So interesting. Both are great paintings. I like the blue of the sky in the second one and the warm blue green of the poison mountain. I find it interesting how you changed the brushstrokes of the foliage in the foreground from the first one to the second one. Both are interesting to look at, but I think I like the bold brush strokes of the 2nd one.

    • Hi Carol – mmm thanks – I find that squirrel mop dictates a certain kind of mark, for me at least. Working in the sun means the paint dries quite quickly in my palette and on the paper, completely the opposite from those damp evenings at the pipe. I would like to build a more varied repertoire of strokes for this. I really want to get stuck in her in the studio now – I have four sheets of Arches 300gm cold press calling to me from my shelf.

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