Initially, the family lived in Hilversum where the 14 year old Pierneef pursued his love of drawing with a remarkably industrious persistence, attending evening classes in architectural drawing at an age when his peers preferred girls, dance halls and football.
With the subsiding of the Second Anglo-Boer War, the Pierneef family returned from Holland to South Africa. (Read about Pierneef’s intriguingly formative years here.)
Whilst the 18 year old Pierneef had firmly set his sights and heart on studying architecture at university, the financial upheaval of returning from Europe and the unexpectedly exhorbitant resettling costs paralysed his father financially, and Pierneef was forced to take up work.
Pierneef’s godfather was none other than the acclaimed sculptor, Anton van Wouw – who had, like his godson, studied fine art at the Rotterdam Art Academy. The well-connected van Wouw was determined to see Pierneef succeed as an established artist, and lent him his whole-hearted support, knowledge and connections. And with this specialised support and his trademark tenacity, Pierneef made his impressive first mark on the South African art world in a group exhibition alongside his godfather and Hugo Naude.
Van Wouw organised for Pierneef to study under the brilliant Frans Oerder, a friend and colleague. Following his three years under Oerder, the Irish artist, George Smithard taught Pierneef the printmaking disciplines of wood engraving and etching – and imbuing him with a rich understanding of graphic design.
And so, with his richly diverse art education, immense skill-set and undeniable natural talent, Pierneef built upon this foundation a career which has earned him worldwide acclaim and continued attention.
READ MORE next time about how his fine art career unfolded across the decades, encountering everything from petty jealousy to global applause!
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Pierneef wielded his brush with a bold tenderness, conjuring colours and carving out shapes across the canvas with a soulful dexterity that has set him apart as an artist of exceptional worth – in every sense of the word. (In terms of South African investment art, a Pierneef piece is more than just a pretty picture – and worth every penny! His work is prized all around the world, selling for up to R12 million.)
‘Henk’ Pierneef enjoyed and excelled in art class at school – most particularly in drawing, which continued to fascinate him throughout his teenage years – which were spent in Holland in a temporary sort of exile away from the turbulance of the Second Anglo-Boer War.
His daylight hours were spent working in a paint-making factory, where his understanding, knowledge and skills in colour-mixing and paint techniques were the perfect complement to his sketching skills and natural talent for the foundational art discipline of drawing.
In 1902, the family relocated to Rotterdam – where the sixteen year old snapped up the opportunity to study art in a more formal, academic setting at the Rotterdam Art Academy. Holland, and Europe as a whole, overflowed with an incredible passion for all things cultural — fine art, classical music and literature was accessible in abundance. Our young burgeoning artist’s imagination and art education was nourished by his immersion in the fine art of Europe, with particular emphasis on the Old Dutch Masters like Rembrandt, Hals and Vermeer. Rome, too, was another art adventure for Pierneef which we can only imagine must have been exquisitely enriching for him, surrounded by the opulence and excellence of Michaelangelo, da Vinci and Giotto.
Eventually, at the age of 18, Pierneef left with his family, leaving their Rotterdam home behind them to return once again to South Africa: a brand new canvas for Pierneef to paint.