Jacob Hendrik Pierneef

Impressionist Modern

(1886 – 1957)

Jacob Hendrik Pierneef was born in 1886 in Pretoria to Dutch immigrant parents. He left South Africa for Holland as part of the deportation during the Anglo-Boer War (1899-1902) and it was there that Pierneef attended the Rotterdam Academy before his return to Pretoria in 1902. In 1925, at the age of 39, Pierneef again returned to Europe and was exposed to the development of Post-Impressionism, a rejection or altered position from Impressionism following its halted state from the onset of the First World War in 1914, and the move into monumental decorative art.

Pierneef’s return to Europe marked the turning point in his visual and theoretical approach to composition and art making that remained in all his paintings for the entirety of his career. Mainly influenced by the school of thought developed by the Dutch artist and the oretician Willem Van Konijnenburg, which focused on the mathematical logic that should be employed when looking at a subject and then to project the underlying geometric structure into a work. These more graphical elements and styles stem from Egyptian and Assyrian art and Pierneef found a central relationship between this and African art which he translated into his landscapes. He continued to study Bushman paintings, looking at the flat surfaces as well as the schematic and geometrical principles which were used as the major part of each artwork’s construction.

Pierneef’s early works emulate these geometric principles and use simplified flat planes of colour with strong line and structural qualities. Although these principles are affluent in the development of Pierneef’s work, his greatest concern was the pursuit of harmony, order and balance which he reflected through the nature of his subject matter, primarily landscapes. Most of Pierneef’s landscapes that were completed between 1928 and 1935 exemplify his deliberate use of these geometric principles. This theory on his approach is not unlike that of Dutch born artist Piet Mondrian, whose final outcome resulted in complete abstraction. However, Pierneef was more concerned with the “decorative possibilities of his geometrical experiments and did not carry them to an abstract conclusion” (Berman, E. 1993:48), therefore marking a vital difference between his own interpretation and application introduced to him by Van Konijnenburg and his redefinition of these artistic and philosophical terms in a South African environment.

This approach gradually became less analytical and began to form Pierneef’s signature style of work in his linocuts, drawings and paintings. As Pierneef’s career advanced the philosophical and theological basis of the teachings he was influenced by were no longer deliberately delved into and completely fell away over time showing an absence of conspicuous geometry, but left a firm establishment of the equilibrium and proportion that was now forever inherent in his works.

Pierneef found a lifelong love of painting the Highveld and Transvaal areas of South Africa, rarely including figures or structures and if so it was often dwarfed into insignificance against the imposition and magnificence of the landscape rendered around it. His affluence as an artist and his passion for art as a teacher created a new outlook for landscape painting and marked a significant shift in thought and approach, making him one of the most pre-eminent old masters in South African art.

1886

Born in Pretoria

1900

Pierneef family deported to Holland via the East African Coast

1902

Returned to Pretoria with the end of the Anglo-Boer War

1910

Sold his first oil painting ‘Meintjies Kop’ to Emil Schweikerdt

1912

Appointed at the State Library in Pretoria

Exhibited with Smithard and Pieter Wenning as a member of ‘The Individualists’ Group’

1917

Elected as a member of South African Society of Artists

Drew illustrations for ‘Die Brandwag’

1920-23

Appointed lecturer in art in Pretoria and Heidelberg Normal Colleges

Showed his work in Cape Town and Stellenbosch

1923

Decided on a fulltime career in art

Painting expedition to South West Africa

1924

Divorced his first wife and remarried Marian Frances Schoop (witnessed by G.W. Pilkington)

Received his first commission, murals for a school in Ficksburg

1925

Travelled to Europe: exhibited in Amsterdam

Met Anton Hendriks – invited him to visit South Africa

Impressed by the theories of the Dutch painter, Willem van Konijnenburg

1926

Returned home via the East Coast

Painted a number of his most spontaneous impressionistic pictures such as ‘Mozambique’ in the Johannesburg Art Gallery

Began to experiment along unconventional lines – both divisionistic and what he referred to as ‘geometric’ styles, created ‘Study in Blue’.

Perfected a complex technique based on a casein medium

1929

t was announced in the press that Pierneef had received a commission for mural-panels for the new Johannesburg railway station

1932

November: The Johannesburg railway station mural-panels were completed and installed

1933

Commissioned to paint mural for South Africa House in London – spent two years in London

1935

Returned to South Africa

1936

Awarded Medal of Honour for Painting by South African Akademie

1947

Pierneef – The Man and His Workby JFW Grosskopf published

1950

Worked at the University College of Natal, Pietermaritzburg

1951

Awarded honorary Doctorate by University of Natal

1957

Died in Pretoria

1911

From this time participated in many group exhibitions in South Africa

1912-13

Exhibitions of ‘The Individualists’ in Pretoria

1913

First of many solo exhibitions held in Pretoria and The Netherlands

1920

Johannesburg Sketch Club Exhibition

South African Academy Exhibition

1921

Solo exhibitions in the Cape Province

1924

South African Art, Empire Exhibition, Wembley

1926

Solo exhibition, Amsterdam

1929

Participated in joint exhibition with Fanie Eloff, Johannesburg

1936

Empire Exhibition, Johannesburg

1948

Participated in South African Art Exhibition, Tate Gallery, London

1950

Held 25 year Retrospective Exhibition, Pieter Wenning Gallery, Johannesburg

1952

Van Riebeeck Tercentenary Exhibition, Cape Town

1953

Held Retrospective Exhibition, Potchefstroom University for Christian High Education

Rhodes Centenary Exhibition, Bulawayo

1962

Pierneef Festival, Johannesburg, Adler Fielding Gallery, Johannesburg

1965

Exhibition of Watercolours and Drawings, Johannesburg Art Gallery

1970

“The Complete Wood-Cuts of Pierneef” exhibition held, Durban Art Gallery

1972

Exhibition of Watercolours, Johannesburg Art Gallery

1973

Exhibition of the Restored Johannesburg Station panels plus associated sketches, Pretoria Art Museum

1974-75

Exhibition of the Marita J Pierneef Collection, University of Stellenbosch, Rand Afrikaans University and Potchefstroom University for Christian High Education.

1979

Station Panels installed in new Johannesburg Station Museum

‘South African Printmakers’, South African National Gallery, Cape Town

1980/81

Retrospective Exhibition of Pierneef and Van Wouw held, Pretoria Art Museum, Johannesburg Art Gallery, Durban Art Gallery, William Humphreys Art Gallery, Kimberley,

King George VI Art Gallery, Port Elizabeth and South African National Gallery, Cape Town

1982

“The Pierneef Collection” exhibited, Pretoria Art Museum

1984

Commemorative Exhibition, Pretoria Art Museum

1987

Exhibition of the Johannesburg Station Panels. Johannesburg Art Gallery

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, Stellenbosch
  • University of South Africa, Pretoria
  • University of Witwatersrand Galleries
  • A C White Gallery, Bloemfontein
  • Johannesburg Railway Station Museum
  • Sandton Municipal Collection
  • Pietersburg Collection

Public Commissions

1924

Mural, Ficksburg High School, Orange Free State

1929-32

Johannesburg Railway Station Panels

1933-35

Murals, South Africa House, London

1937

Mural, ‘ss Pretoria Castle’

1940

Two large pictures, Johannesburg Magistrates Courts

1955

Broadcast House, Johannesburg

1935

Received the first Medal of Honour for Painting awarded by the South African Akademie vir Wetenskap en Kuns

1951

Received Honorary Doctorate from the University of Natal

1957

Received Honorary Doctorate of Philosophy from the University of Pretoria

Made an Honorary member of the South African Akademie vir Wetenskap en Kuns

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