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!)