Gregoire Johannes Boonzaier

(1909 - 2005)

About

“I am very particular about my paintings and would like them to last. It is pleasing to think that what you have made today and what is regarded now as a good painting, and which pleases and stimulates people today, will still do the same a thousand years from now.” Gregoire Boonzaier

Gregoire Boonzaier was born in 1909 to the political cartoonist D.C Boonzaier. Due heavily to the nature of his father’s work, he was continually surrounded by the vanguard of South African arts and artists. These artists included Anton van Wouw, Pieter Wenning, Moses Kottler and Nita Spilhaus who were good friends with Gregoire’s father. The recurrent influences of the people in Gregoire’s life meant that he received no formal training and was mostly self-taught, which was within his father’s wishes. It was not long until he himself began to show a great aptitude for painting, his early works showing a great influence from Pieter Wenning. His first paintings were shown at the age of fourteen, followed soon after by his first solo exhibition at the age of sixteen. 

By 1932 Gregoire Boonzaier had already developed an innovative and characteristic style that continued to exist in all of his works throughout his long and successful career. It was this year that he established his own studio, causing great conflict with his father who was against it and ended their relationship indefinitely. After two years of successful exhibitions, Gregoire was able to travel to Europe to attend formal art academies. In London he studied alongside fellow South African artists Frieda Lock and Terrance McCaw at the Heatherley School of Art, mainly influenced by Post-Impressionist artists such as Cézanne, Van Gogh and Braque. Whilst in Europe he traveled to France, Russia and Spain, frequently participating in exhibitions in London and sending work back to South Africa to be shown. 

Soon after his return to South Africa in 1937, among other artists including Frieda Lock, Terrance McCaw and Lippy Lipshitz, became one of the founding members of the New Group, one of the most active and dominant art organisations whose initial aim was to break down the precast perceptions of art that were formed in a conservative South Africa. Boonzaier was one of the most involved members and remained chairman of the group for a decade. Boonzaier’s involvement as a teacher on the platteland (rural areas) was another act of his commitment and enthusiasm to create a new understanding and grounding for art in South Africa. 

It was this philosophy and dedication to all his work and interests that created the success that he received in the newly formed art market that was subsequent to his efforts. His paintings ranged over landscapes, still lifes and portraits that created the approach of Cape Impressionism for artists following his lead, where the influence of European Impressionism has been redefined in context and style individually to each South African painter associated with this style. 

Visually Gregoire’s use of flat colour planes and strong outlines is a principle characteristic in his paintings. The painterly style with loose, but intentional, brushstrokes is used with thickly painted areas of impasto and other areas where the colour is almost reduced to translucence. The distinctive subject matter of Boonzaier shows the beauty and interest of the everyday scenery and objects surrounding him in the Cape and in his home.

Gregoire’s emblematic and characteristically sure approach in his paintings and his approach to art in South African has established him as one of South Africa’s most admired and attributed artists who has achieved international recognition. When he died soon before his 96th birthday he was able to have created a hugely significant lifetime’s dedication to art and his work which combines both fervent expression and also a deliberate craftsmanship.

  • Exhibitions

    1923

    First painting shown on exhibition, William Humphreys Gallery, Kimberly.

    1925

    First of many Solo exhibitions held in South Africa, Ashby’s Gallery, Cape Town.

    1931

    Solo exhibition, William Derry Gallery, Cape Town.

    1936

    Participated in the Empire Exhibition, Royal academy, Johannesburg.

    1938

    First of many New Group exhibitions, Cape Town.

    1948

    Participated in the Exhibition of South African Art, Tate Gallery, London.

    1952

    Participated in the Van Riebeeck Tercentenary Exhibition, Cape Town.

    1967

    Retrospective exhibition held, Pretoria Art Museum.

    1978

    Retrospective exhibition, Potchefstroom University.

    1981

    Retrospective exhibition, University of Stellenbosch.

    Exhibited at the University of the Free State, Bloemfontein.

    1985

    Retrospective exhibition, University of Pretoria.

    1993/94

    ‘Variations on Different Themes’ exhibition showing a collection of 100 paintings, Onrus Gallery, University of Pretoria and the Sasol Museum in Stellenbosch.

    1997

    Exhibition of Self-Portraits held, Stellenbosch Art Gallery.

    1999

    Galérie Gregoire opened by Professor Muller Ballot in Onrus River.

  • Awards

    1958

    Received the medal of Honour for Painting awarded by the South African Akademie vir Wetenskap en Kuns.

    1980

    Awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Philosophy by the University of the Free State.

    1989

    After his 100thsolo exhibition was awarded the Cape Arts Medal and the FAK Silver Medal for Exceptional Cultural Achievement by the South African Arts Union.

    1993

    Awarded an honorary Doctorate by the University of the Western Cape.