Investment Art | Art Valuations Logo

Pierneef ‘s European Break

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.

JH Pierneef Painting 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.


Pierneef: The Unfolding (1)

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.

Photographs of Anton van Wouw and Shangaan sculpture

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!
 (SUBSCRIBE here so you don’t miss it!)

Pierneef: Of Exile, Drawing & a Paint Factory

 Absolut Art Gallery - J H Pierneef - Biography
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.
L-R: Transvaal Boer leader, Paul Kruger | Boer defending from a trench | Burghers | concentration camp to detain Boer families and POWs
L-R: Transvaal Boer leader, Paul Kruger | Boer defending from a trench | Burghers | concentration camp to detain Boer families and POWs
L-R: British leader, Horatio Kitchener | Wounded British soldiers after Battle of Modderfontein | POW camp | British leader: Baden-Powell
L-R: British leader, Horatio Kitchener | Wounded British soldiers after Battle of Modderfontein | POW camp | British leader: Baden-Powell

A church in Hilversum, Holland (by P J Cuypers - circa 1900)
A church in Hilversum, Holland (by P J Cuypers – circa 1900)

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.

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.

(Be sure to visit again soon to read Part II of our Pierneef series!)