Born on 6 April 1913 in Amsterdam, Holland, his boyhood years there were but a vague memory. Yet he vividly recalled his excitement when his father, who had travelled to South Africa in 1921, instructed his wife to follow with the family six months later. The spirited eight-year-old, exhilarated by visions of the adventures ahead, departed his birthplace without a backward glance. Henceforth his heart was to remain wholly devoted to his new home, South Africa. Gabriel died on 11th March 2004 shortly before his 91st birthday. He is survived by his son Tinus who runs a small gallery in Cape Town containing a cross representation of the works of both Tinus and Gabriel.
Tinus’ acquisition of a car in 1923 enabled him to travel further afield, always accompanied by his family who shared in his new experiences with great gusto.
In 1924 Tinus moved to a larger home in Rondebosch where Gabriel attended Rondebosch and Wynberg Boy’s schools, matriculating in 1930. With insight Tinus advised his son against his wish to become a farmer, the choice falling on a career in commercial art. Prior to commencing his apprenticeship at The Cape Times, Gabriel spent a year studying water colour techniques under his father’s supervision.
At The Cape Times, in addition to familiarization with drawing, painting, layout, design and lettering in the art department he attended, as a part-time student, the technical college for tuition in special techniques and the Michaelis School of Art where he studied woodcarving under H V Meyerowitz. Gabriel soon realized that his father’s tuition was of inestimable value, for Tinus’ insistence on a solid grounding stood him in good stead.
Despite his crowded schedule, Gabriel spent every free moment in activity. Bearing in mind his father’s dictum that practical experience was the finest teacher, his lunch hours were spent sketching and painting small water colours of such familiar city scenes as the Malay Quarter, Cape Town Docks and Table Mountain. Each evening he painted till midnight, depending upon Tinus for criticism of the completed works.
Thus his weekends were free for leisure time pursuits. Gabriel was an enthusiastic sportsman and a keen golfer. But it was on the tennis courts that he gained a reputation as a formidable opponent representing The Cape Times in the Merchant’s League tournaments and the Grand Challenge League for Western Province. He was also a member of the S A Turf Club and an owner of a champion racehorse, "Glorious".
On completion of his apprenticeship he entered into the field of colour reproduction of fine art in the recently established photo-lithograhy department under the experienced guidance of Charles Hardy. It was here that he accumulated his vast store of knowledge of the dissection and composition of colours. Gabriel continued to utilize his spare time in perfecting his watercolour technique, employing a freedom of application which his father admitted was beyond his capability. It was during this period that he also experimented with etchings.
When Tinus held an exhibition at the Riviera Hotel, Hermanus on 19 January 1937, he suggested that Gabriel display some works. The twenty water colours met with a gratifying response and were sold within the first day. But it was not till 1939, after his resounding success at the Annual Exhibition of the Natal Society of Artists, that Gabriel was acknowledged as an artist worthy of note.
His works displayed at the Annual Exhibition of the Eastern Province Society of Artists in Port Elizabeth received mention in a local newspaper, "Son steals father’s thunder!" to Tinus’ astonishment and delight. Thereafter Gabriel exhibited regularly at the art societies of East London, Queenstown and Orange Free State; the Langton and Pieter Wenning Galleries; and the S A Academy exhibitions in Johannesburg. He also exhibited at the 1946 Eeufees Exhibition in Bloemfontein and the 1946 exhibition of the SA Society of Artists.
After his marriage to Mercia Maria Kotze in 1938, Gabriel established a home of his own in Rondebosch, adjacent to Tinus who visited him frequently, continuing to advise him on his art.
Two major events were to prove a watershed in Gabriel’s life, namely his father’s tragic death and World War II. On 6 September 1939 the Union of South Africa united with the Allies in declaring war on Germany. Gabriel volunteered for active service but was refused leave of absence by The Cape Times because of his expertise in the photo-lithography department. With his father he served in the Civil Defence Corps until 1942 when all Dutch citizens domiciled in South Africa were called up for service by the Dutch government.
After a year of failing health Tinus was pronounced to be suffering from terminal cancer of the lungs. Gabriel was granted compassionate leave to attend his father’s deathbed, thereby miraculously escaping death himself. The troopship transporting the Seventh Contingent, from which he was recalled, was torpedoed en route to Britain with a loss of all lives. During his vigil at his father’s bedside Gabriel pondered on the lamentable extinction of Tinus’ talent and vast store of knowledge. In a fitting tribute to his father he vowed to make optimal use of the foundation blocks which he had so generously provided, on which to build his artistic career.
On 17 July Tinus passed away. Gabriel had barely completed the funeral arrangements when he was instructed to join the Eighth Contingent of the Koninklijke Nederlandsche Brigade, Prinses Irene and departed on the "Sabajak" on 20 November, arriving in Britain on 16 December 1942.
Amidst preparations for the Allied Second Front he spent his free time sketching and painting water colours of the English countryside, attending the Slade School of Art, which had been transferred to Windermere for the duration of the war, as a part-time student.
On 5 August 1944 he departed for Arromanches, Normandy with Fighting Unit 111, 49th Division attached to the 21st Army Group as part of the follow-up forces to expand the beachhead. They advanced to the River Orne to take over from the 6th British Airborne Division which had landed on D-Day, 6 June, and then continued on to Belgium. On 4 September they were transferred to the 1st Army Group as an army of occupation. They were directed to Holland as follow-up forces for Operation Market Garden. From 17 September till 7 October they held the bridge at Graves which, on 17 September had been gained by the US 82nd Airborne Division. In the midst of the action, Gabriel still found time to sketch and paint many historical scenes of the Second Front.
While standing guard at Wispic on 4 November he was injured by anti-personnel shells and hospitalized. Thereafter his active participation in the war was over. The Medical Commission graded him Medically unfit for duty. He departed Glasgow on the "Strathaird" on 22 May 1945 and arrived in South Africa on 12 June.