As the early 1900’s rolled around Frans Oerder had become a well-known name on the South African landscape. Coming to South Africa as a young graduate he grabbed the first opportunity of employment by working as house painter. Some years later he took up a position as an art instructor at a local school. After eventually taking the bold step to become a full-time painter, he found some reward in his appointment as president Paul Kruger’s official war painter during the Anglo-Boer War.
After almost two decades in South Africa he started a new chapter in Holland. Upon his arrival he initially settled in a one of Holland’s southern most provinces, called Brabant. This region shares a border with its neighbour Belgium and it is widely known for its strong religious beliefs during the early half of the 20th century. Oerder did stay their very long. He eventually decided to establish himself in Amsterdam.
The move to the city proved to be a good move. In 1910 he married fellow painter, Gerda Pitlo. By this time his name spread far and wide as a still life and portrait artist. His connection with his new wife saw him make a definite move towards different flower compositions. One of these paintings, Magnolias, was sold to the New York Graphic Society. This piece of art became so popular that Oerder is forever remembered as a master of the still-life compositions and also brought in record sales for the Society.
Despite Oerder having built a new life far from South Africa he continued to design the cover of the weekly magazine, Die Brandwag.
In 1938 he set foot on South African soil for the first time in many years. His grand reputation had preceded him and the tower room of Pretoria City Hall was made available to him to use as a studio.
He eventually died in Pretoria in 1944 after he struggled to recover from a severe bout of pneumonia.
Toward the end of the 19th century Frans Oerder was recognised as one of the first artists to portray the Transvaal landscape with some degree of authenticity. Another key observation is the manner in which these processes were communicated with his protegé, J.H Pierneef.
After a painting holiday in Zululand followed by an exhibition in Cape Town Oerder achieved a milestone position for any professional artist. President Paul Kruger appointed him as the republic’s official war artist. He subsequently joined the Boer forces in order to realistically illustrate “battle front” scenes. Many of these paintings are now being housed in the War Museum in Bloemfontein, Africana Museum in Johannesburg as well as with University of Pretoria’s art collection. A number of observers have commented on the superiority of Oerder’s work. Notably his reflections of the Boer War carry the marks of a highly-regarded draughtsman in composition, facility and accuracy.
After the war his life returned to “normal”; at least normal for artists of that era. He undertook travels around East Africa. Oerder was unfortunate to contract malaria during his travels. During this time he continued to receive requests for some of his work. His election to the South African Society of Artists in 1905 saw the tide finally turning in his favour. During this time he continued to receive a number of commissions for paintings.
He eventually returned to Holland in 1908 for the first time in 18 years, after finding it hard to adapt to post-war South Africa.
Frans Oerder moved to South Africa in 1890; his brother moved to Pretoria two years prior and was so impressed that he convinced his brother to do the same. His first job on African soil was as a painter and decorator for De Wyn & Engelenburg firm and later he reverted to work for the Zuid-Afrikaansche Spoorweg Maatschappij; painting poles along the Delagoa railway line.
At the time Oerder’s skill set was a rare commodity in South Africa; an artist with professional training. Frans subsequently took up a position at the Staatsmeisjesskool and the Girls High School in Pretoria. The time he spent teaching only increased his appetite for more art. In 1894, Oerder rented a studio in Church street east from where he drew newspaper cartoons and assisted Anton van Wouw with commissions. Later on he became close friends with van Wouw and also shared a studio with him. Here he received frequent visits from one of his students, Jacobus Pierneef.
1896 was an important year in the life of Frans Oerder. He finally became a South African citizen and also held his first exhibition. He was one of the first artists to portray the nature of the Transvaal landscape, he attempted to capture the colour and sense of space often only found in the Transvaal. Typical of Dutch artists, he often worked on still life and flower-pieces. Frans enjoyed working with various aspects of the visual experience – influence of light and shade, colour variations and texture.
As a young man of twenty-three Oerder had to craft a new style as there was no real need for the traditional Dutch art that he was accustomed to. He was a naturally gifted draughtsman, finishing his six years course in a only a few years and finding a new direction seemed to be a perfect fit for Frans.
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Frans David Oerder is another South African painter in a long line of great artists to come from the Southern tip of Africa. In Oerder’s case his contribution is visible in both his art and the learnings that he could pass on to other artists.
Frans was born in the Dutch port city of Rotterdam in 1867. His father, Johannes Carolus Oerder, was a municipal worker who also had seven other children. As is often the case, a career as an artist was not the career choice that Oerder senior would have made for his son. However he was willing to compromise and allowed Frans to train as a decorator.
In 1880 he enrolled at the Rotterdam academy of art where he eventually completed his training as an art decorator by 1885, one year prior to the actual end date of his course. His efforts did not go unnoticed and he became a very worthy recipient of the King William III gold medal and bursary. This accolade presented the new graduate with more opportunities. Things were going well for this new aspiring artist.
Frans Oerder embarked on travels to Italy followed by a move to Brussels to study at Ernest Blanc-Garin’s newly formed art academy. This move provided him one of his last opportunities at formal education before embarking on the balancing act of being a professional artist and putting food on the table.
His next step was moving to South Africa, literally the other side of the world. This would become his new home and while his experience of life as an artist had started in his homeland he would now have new challenges to face.
J.H Pierneef was a well-known South African artist by the time the 1920s rolled around. As a young artist he spend time in the Netherlands after which he returned to his homeland. Post-Boer War he held a number of exhibitions which thrust him into the spotlight of the local art scene.
After a failed at a first attempts as an art lecturer he decided to pursue a full-time career as an artist. The time that followed was not what one would expect, in fact this was a very difficult time in the artist’s life. Mrs Pierneef suffered from a mental disorder and became increasingly dependent on her husband for support. In reaction he worked even harder – holding country wide exhibitions, touring South Africa and offering the odd lecture..
He held exhibitions in Pretoria, Cape Town Stellenbosch during the early 1920s, at times having about 300 works on display. His first two years as a professional artist was very successful. Jacobus Pierneef was now receiving deserved recognition for his work and finally felt like he was developing a truly South African brand of art.
Pierneef made a second trip to Europe midway through the 1920s, one which some critics say defined his art career. The first part characterised by his individual style and the second known as a time in which he reached maturity and saw the culmination of a multitude of influences. During his second “European break” he promoted his work and dedicated much of his time to studying the latest art movements. Interestingly his exhibition of bushmen painting drew much interest from the Dutch audience.
Towards the end of the 1920s he was again a very busy man; his career was flourishing, he held another large exhibition in Pretoria and he became a father.
As the First World War arrived on European shores, Pierneef was revelling in the applause his works were receiving. After his first solo exhibition in 1911 where many exalted him as a genius, his second solo exhibition included most of his new work as well as some graphic works. These too received favourable coverage. The artist started spending more and more time researching South African Art and its influences, becoming an authority on the subject.
Post-Boer war South Africa left Afrikaners with a sense of bitterness towards the British, resulting in a strong sense of nationalism amongst the Afrikaners. Enter Jacobus Hendrik Pierneef.
This was the perfect setting for Pierneef to familiarise himself with the Afrikaner’s way and sided with their culture and art. He went on to illustrate many books written by well-known South African authors and advocated for Afrikaans as an official language. During this time he continued working at the state library, only starting a career in education in 1918. The first position he held was the the Heidelberg College of Education and then later at the Pretoria College of Education.
The time he spent in the then South African Education system proved to be very frustrating. Pierneef’s dislike of the English education system forced on colonial South Africa meant that his career as an educator would be short-lived. He was of the opinion that South African artists are unique and should have the freedom to develop their own style. In 1924 he embraced the title of “professional artist”.
Pierneef’s wanderings proved that not all artists are the same. He would spend many years in public service before focussing on his first love. A journey with many twists and turns, but one that etched him into the history of South African art.
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Jacobus Hendrik Pierneef, an esteemed South African artist was the son of a Dutch immigrant, who was a close friend of former president Paul Kruger. He took his first steps as an artist at the Staats Model School in Pretoria. It was here where one of young Henk’s teachers inspired his love for nature and rock formations.
The outbreak of the Anglo-Boer war forced the Pierneef family back to their homeland as an alternative to imprisonment. The family settled in Hilversum where Henk and his sister could receive needed medical treatment. The former started working at a paint factory in his spare time, a good place to learn the intricacies of mixing paint. Over time he involved himself in various other activities such as night classes where he learnt about architectural drawing and later on at the Rotterdam Art Academy. These experiences accumulated into Pierneef’s growing knowledge of the old Dutch masters.
J.H Pierneef returned to Pretoria as a knowledgable young adult, ready to embark on a career in art. He would paint in his studio during the day and work at the state library during the night. This routine continued for almost 10 years. His first public auction was a great success. Collaborating with van Wouw and Naude and attracting interest from various well-known personalities of the time. He found much encouragement from the positive feedback he received from the public. As is often the case, a young man like Pierneef is subtly in search for a soulmate. At the start of 1910 he married Agatha Delen, despite opposition from both families. Pierneef was a young 23 year-old and his new wife a more advanced 35.
Pierneef’s career was now starting to take shape. He subsequently took part in a group exhibition and had two etchings sold. His first solo exhibition in 1913 was a milestone event that announced Pierneef as a master. Some critics labelling him a genius, a source of much inspiration and discipline.
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Irma Stern is seen as one of the most important artists to be produced by South Africa. Her work has been celebrated by numerous exhibitions all over the world and has also found a home in many embassies throughout Europe.
In 1926 Ms Stern married Johannes Prinz, her earlier mentor, who later became professor of German at UCT. While living in South African with her new husband, Stern would often return to Europe to exhibit in places like Paris, Berlin and Amsterdam. A year later she was recognised at the ‘Bordeaux International Exhibition’ for her efforts and subsequently elected to represent her homeland at the ‘Empire Art Exhibition’ in London a short while later.
Unfortunately their marriage was never a happy one and each went their separate ways in 1934. This was also during the time of political unrest in Europe and especially Germany. Stern used this new phase in her life to explore the many rich cultures of Africa. At times she stayed away for months at a time, undertaking trips to places like Senegal, Zanzibar and Congo. The artist used these trips to explore the land and collect subject matter for some of her paintings. In addition to this she would also go on to publish two books about her travels to Congo and Zanzibar respectively. These paintings often focussed on culture rather than individuals. She used the people whom she came into contact with as subject matter and studied them as a representation of the culture at large.
Her approach was in contrast to many other South African artists of the time. People like Dorothy Kay, Constance Greaves and Joyce McCrea were considered to be realist painters whereas Stern’s approach was different. Her personal style and expressive nature had a significant influence on the subjects of her paintings. Stern was at the peak of her career during the 40s and 50s. She often travelled to Europe during this time, but was still firmly rooted as a South African artist during this time.
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What would Irma Stern’s Fishing Boats do in a cemetery, under a park bench? Some artists have a very unique way of doing things, this was certainly not one of them.
Although her life begin in the obscure little town of Schweitzer-Renecke, her story really began as an art student in Germany. She showed tremendous growth as an artist, first at the Weimar Academy and later under Max Pechstein at Levin-Funcke Studio. Stern found herself in the company of numerous great German expressionists at the time. The artist had a sense of German precision and will to succeed at all cost. History has it that Stern would often cut herself off from the world by putting up a “do not disturb” sign outside her studio and relied on her cigarettes and strong black coffee to get her through another project. She would stay there until it was finished and had a personal philosophy of never touching the canvas after she had finished a painting.
She took part in almost one hundred exhibitions across Europe and South Africa. Even though her work had received much acclaim from as early as 1920, it took another decade or two for Stern to found a way into the hearts of her homeland. Upon her return to the republic around 1927, Irma Stern moved into her first house in Rondebosch and stayed there until her death in 1966.
Irma Stern is one of South Africa most accomplished and well-known artists, but not before reviews titled her work as “Art of Miss Irma Stern – Ugliness as a cult”. Whether the thieves who stole one of her paintings knew this much about her is debatable, fortunately her work was recovered from under a bench in a Port Elizabeth cemetry in 2012.
People marvel at art for various reasons, some for beauty, others for inspiration, but the art of Erik Laubscher had the ability to speak to the heart. One could also argue that he had the ability to capture a moment in nature and bring it to life. As previously stated, art brought him to a deep spiritual place. The same awe that many might find when they look up at a starlit sky or in the middle of an open field.
Laubscher is the first to admit that his paintings are products of his admiration for the forms, elements and atmosphere around him. Some might think that he was a master of composition, when he actually painted those things to which his being was connected. This was a place where emotion gained form and shape and the canvas and palette would often become an arrangement of his perceptions. The thing that struck many is the integrity of his art; what you saw was the outpouring of his soul. Some refer to the strength of the emotion he used and others are impressed by the precise image – trademarks of his meticulous craftsmanship.
Reminiscing on the life Erik Laubscher seems even more remarkable when considering that he started out as an art school reject. In order to support his family he worked as a salesman for Plascon. One could argue that it was when he started the Ruth Prowse Art Centre in Woodstock that his art career would take off again, leading him to the São Paulo and Venice Biennale and also included in major museums, university and public collections.
During his illustrious career spanning 60 years, he represented South Africa at the São Paulo and Venice Biennale and was included in major museums, university and public collections.
A fitting tribute to this well-known South African artist would be that he is counted as one of the most remarkable Cape Town artists of his time.
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