Friday, February 14, 2014
Controversy over Country Life Caption
My response to Prof Scott:
I made a close study of Baine's paintings and obviously drove right around Naval Hill to try to match his picture to the present day reality from various vantage points.
Prof Scott believes Baine's view was towards Thaba Nchu.
Thaba Nchu is a large and very tall mountain about 60km due east of Bloemfontein, and rises quite imposingly over a series of low undulating fields. That area today is the more industrial outskirts of Bloem, including basically an informal settlement and areas like Botshabelo.
The main reason I do not think Prof Scott is correct has to do with the actual outlay of the city which Baine's has captured. He depicts the first churches and residents gathering towards the south against a small koppie. Bloemfontein started in the area that is now Church Street, basically around president Brand Street and Hoffman Plein and the Twee Toring Kerk. That is also the central area in the photograph.
A view to the East from Signal Hill is a view towards the railway and golf course, and completely misses the Twee Toring Kerk and central (older) Bloemfontein. In my opinion Baine's didn't get the distant background right, or it's possible he was focused on a smallish area of what is admittedly a very wide panorama. I do highly doubt if he was painting the scene towards Thaba Nchu that he would have missed that mountain, and if he did, the lie of the land in that direction is completely different with no koppie in the middle, as is the case looking South.
It's also likely he did not paint the picture from the vantage point of the summit of Signal Hill or Naval Hill (where the photo is taken), but rather on the lower slopes (where I took additional reference photos). The left side of the painting itself supports this view, as does the fact that the distant mountains sink below the field of view the lower one goes.
That said, Baine's painting appears to have been sketched from high enough to see Thaba Nchu, a mountain that is easily visible throughout the slightly elevated parts of Bloemfontein. Regular visitors to Naval Hill also make use of the viewing deck that shows an attractive vista over the central city. This is the conventional view today as it must have been then, which also reinforces the idea that Baine's used a very similar vantage point looking South - to do this particular landscape.