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Pierneef: The rise of a Genius

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.

Pierneef Art

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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