Died: 1957, Pretoria, South Africa
Jacob Hendrik Pierneef was one of the most prominent South African artists whose modernist and geometric style revolutionized South African art in the early 20th century.
Born in Pretoria in the year that Johannesburg was founded, he attended the Staats Model School in Pretoria, here he excelled at drawing. His family returned to Holland during the Boer War and it was here that he came into contact with Old Master pictures which left a lasting impression on him. He studied at the Rotterdamse Kunsakademie and when he returned to South Africa, aged 18, he met with and was encouraged by established artists such as Frans Oerder, Hugo Naude, and Anton Vam Wouw.
In 1910 Pierneef sold his first painting to Emil Schweikerdt for R6,30. In 1912 he received an appointment at the State Library, Pretoria; together with Smithard and Pieter Wenning exhibited as a member of “The Individualists” Group. Pierneef went on to become an art lecturer at the Heidelberg College of Education as well as Pretoria College of Education.
Between 1923 – 1924 Pierneef lived in Namibia. In 1924 Pierneef received his first commission, murals for a school in Ficksburg. A year later he travelled to Europe and exhibited in Amsterdam with Anton Hendriks. He returned home in 1926, painted a number of his most spontaneous impressionist prictures. In 1929 he accepted the commission to paint 32 panels for the Johannesburg Railway Station, a task completed in 1932. In 1933 he was commissioned to paint murals for South Africa House, London. He spent two years in London.
In 1936 he was awarded Medal of Honour for Painting by South Africa Akademie. He also settled on a farm East of Pretoria and proceeded to create a home, studio and garden of indigenous character. In 1951 he was awarded an Honorary Doctorate by the University of Natal
- Drawing under an architect at Hilversum, Holland.
- 1901: Rotterdam Academy.
- 1905-8: painting under Frans Oerder.
- 1908-: etching and wood-engraving under GS Smithard.
Short Artist Biography
JH Pierneef was born in the year that Johannesburg was founded; his father, Gerrit - a Hollander, build the first house in the new town (in Market St); his mother was the daughter of a Trekker. He attended the Staats Model School in Pretoria; excelled at drawing; his love of the countryside was fostered by one of his teachers.
- 1900: during the Anglo-Boer War Gerrit Pierneef organized an auxiliary police force in Pretoria; when Lord Roberts took the town he gave him the choice of internment or deportation; choosing the latter, the family sailed for Holland via East African coast; they stayed at first in Hilversum where JH Pierneef worked part-time in a paint factory and attended night-classes in drawing; later they settled in Rotterdam; although they wanted JH Pierneef to study for the DRC ministry, they allowed him a year at the Academy and a visit to Rome.
- 1902: with the end of the Anglo-Boer War the family returned to Pretoira; JH Pierneef intended to study architecture, but his father experienced unexpected financial difficulties and young JH Pierneef was sent to work in Lodewijk de Jager's tobacco shop; he continued to study artistic techniques, encouraged by his godfather, Anton van Wouw.
1910: JH Pierneef sold his first oil painting - Meintjies Kop - to Emil Schweikerdt for R6-30 exhibited as a member of `The Individualists' Group.
- 1917: JH Pierneef elected a member of Society of South African Artists; drew illustrations for `Die Brandwag'; executed many lino-cuts, (until quite recently these were always described as woodcuts).
- 1920-23: JH Pierneef appointed lecturer in art in Pretoria and Heidelberg Normal Colleges; enjoyed travelling the countryside; studied and copied rock paintings; showed his work in Cape Town and Stellenbosch.
- 1923: his paintings began to sell and he decided on a fulltime career in art; went off on a painting expedition to Namibia, the first of several.
- 1924: a new phase began; JH Pierneef divorced his first wife, broke with his Church; remarried - Marian Frances Schoop ; received his first commission - murals for a school in Ficksburg.
- 1925: on the South African Academy his wife showed tapestries woven to his designs based on `Bushman' motifs. Travelled to Europe: exhibited in Amsterdam; met Anton Hendriks and invited him to visit South Africa; impressed by the theories of the Dutch painter, Willem van Konijnenburg.
- 1926: JH Pierneef returned home via East Coast; painted a number of his most spontaneous impressionistic pictures in Mozambique; began to experiment along unconventional lines - both divisionistic and what he referred to as `geometric' styles - eg Study in Blue; also perfected a complex technique based on a casein medium.
- 1929: it was announced in the press that JH Pierneef had received a commission for mural-panels for the new Johannesburg railway station (32 paintings at R80 apiece). The completed works were installed in November 1932.
- 1933: JH Pierneef commissioned to paint murals for South Africa House, London; spent two years in London with visits to the continent.
- 1935: returned to South Africa.
- 1936: South Africa awarded Medal of Honour for Painting by South Africa Akademie. Several other commissions followed; his reputation firmly established, he settled on a small farm East of Pretoria and proceeded to create a home, studio and garden of indigenous character; called his home `Elangeni' -- Where Sunshine is at the Gate; suffered his first heart-attack while building his house; continued to spend much time in the veld, sketching trees and landscape; also travelled and painted farther afield.
- 1947: the subject of a monograph `Pierneef - the Man and his Work' by JFW Grosskopf.
- 1950: South Africa worked at University College of Natal, Pietermaritzburg; made a pictorial record of Pretoria streets and homesteads.
- 1951: South Africa awarded honorary- Doctorate by University of Natal. A most congenial companion and an earnest crusader for the cause of Afrikaner art and culture. Honoured in his life-time as a great South African artist; several of his works have been reproduced by E Schweikerdt (Pty) Ltd. Illustrated numerous periodicals and books.
During the 1970s, Pierneef's daughter, Marita ("Miekie") Bailey, and her husband established the Bailey Collection, made up of a large number of South Africa's works and personal effects which had been in their possession, plus numerous items which they sought out and acquired from various other quarters. A portion of this Collection was purchased by the South African Department of National Education in 1975. The rest of the Collection, made up of some 350 items, was placed on public exhibition in a small gallery created for the purpose in Stellenbosch, where the Baileys lived. In 1980, the Department purchased the remainder of the Bailey Collection, with the aim of ultimately creating a Pierneef Museum. Meanwhile the Collection would be housed in the Pretoria Art Museum
- 1912-13: exhibitions of `The Individualists', Pretoria.
- 1913: first one-man art exhibition, Pretoria; many thereafter.
- 1920: Johannesburg Sketch Club Exhibition; South African Academy Exhibition
- 1921: one-man art exhibitions in the Cape Province.
- 1924: South African Art, Empire Exhibition, Wembley.
- 1926: one-man art exhibition, Amsterdam.
- 1936: Empire Exhibition, Johannesburg.
- 1948: Overseas Exhibition of South African Art
- 1950: 25-year retrospective exhibition, Johannesburg.
- 1952: Van Riebeeck Tercent Exhibition Cape Town.
- 1953: Rhodes Cenenaryt Exhibition, Bula-wayo.
- 1962: Pierneef Festival, Johannesburg.
- 1973: exhibition of restored Johannesburg Station panels, plus associated sketches, Pretoria Art Museum
- 1979: Station panels installed in new Johannesburg Station Museum; `South African Printmakers', South African National Gallery, Cape Town.
- 1980: `Pierneef/ Van Wouw', exhibition touring South Africa's major art museums, organized by the Rembrandt Art Foundation.
Public Art Collections
South African National Gallery, Cape Town; Johannesburg Art Gallery; Pretoria Art Museum; Durban Art Gallery; William Humphreys Gallery, Kimberley; King George VI Gallery, Port Elizabeth; Ann Bryant Art Gallery, East London; Rembrandt Art Foundation; UNISA; Wits Galleriess; AC White Gallery, Bloemfontein; Johannesburg Railway Station Museum; Sandton Municipal Collection; Pietersburg Art Collection.