Jacobus Hendrik Pierneef (1886-1957)

Artwork by Jacobus Hendrik Pierneef


Pierneef was born in Pretoria in 1886, the year that Johannesburg was founded to a Dutch father and an Afrikaans mother. He attended the Staats Model School in Pretoria, where he excelled at drawing. During the Anglo-Boer war, the family was deported to Holland. In 1900, Pierneef studied drawing under an architect at Hilversum. He worked part-time in a paint factory, and attended night classes in drawing. In 1901, his parents allowed him to study at Rotterdam Academy, and to visit Rome.

At the end of the Anglo-Boer war the family returned to Pretoria. Pierneef had to work in a tobacco shop, but he continued to study artistic techniques, encouraged by his godfather, Anton van Wouw. Pierneef received an appointment in 1912 at the State Library, Pretoria and exhibited as a member of The Individualists Group before in 1917 he was elected a member of The South African Society of Art. Pierneef enjoyed travelling the countryside and studied and copied rock paintings.In 1923, his paintings began to sell, and he decided on a full-time career in art, and went off on a painting expedition to SWA, the first of many such trips.

Throughout his career, Pierneef had patrons for his paintings. He was acknowledged as the foremost interpreter of the South African landscape, the primary theme of his work. He depicted homesteads, city-views and mining establishments, yet there is little sign of human activity in his detached perspectives; the symbols of life in his silent, ordered world of nature are established in the stylised, isolated forms of trees and other verdure.

By the end of the Thirties, Pierneef´s name and style had stamped themselves on the minds of an ever-widening, national audience.

In the Forties and early Fifties, viewers found reassurance in the familiarity of his forms. His subject-matter and viewpoint were essentially South African, and appeared to many of his countrymen to represent the growing spirit of national independence which was freeing their culture from its long subservience to Europe.

JH Pierneef died on 4 October 1957, and is still regarded as one of the most important South African art pioneers. His unique and individual style will always be definitive when surveying the history of African landscape painting.