Jacobus Hendrik Pierneef is a South African master painter synonymous with landscape painting in the country. Pierneef was born in Pretoria to Dutch parents. As the Boer War raged in 1900, the Pierneef family travelled back to the Netherlands where the young Pierneef was able to engage with the work of the Old Masters, the likes of Vermeer and Rembrandt, which inspired him greatly.
Upon his return to Pretoria, Pierneef was encouraged in his painting by local artists including Hugo Naudé, Frans Oerder and his godfather Anton van Wouw. His first solo show in 1913 was hailed as a great success, with critics even referring to the artist as a genius. Over the next decade, as he continued to participate in a number of equally well received shows, Pierneef also worked as a lecturer, both at the Heidelberg College of Education and at the Pretoria College of Education. In 1923, he left teaching to paint full-time.
The artist’s intimate knowledge of South African architecture and landscape (particularly that of the highveld) is said to have inspired his distinct geometric style, characterised by flat planes of colour with simplified line and form. Sometimes cubist in character, at the time, Pierneef’s images were considered futuristic. Today, he is credited as having revolutionised South African art as it began to shift away from its traditionalist past.
Pierneef’s significance as a figure in South African art is undisputed. He is internationally recognised and has been celebrated with exhibitions around the globe, including the 1948 show, Overseas Exhibition of South African Art at the Tate in London. His work is held in major collections, both private and public, in South Africa and abroad such as at the Iziko South African National Gallery, Cape Town; the Rupert Art Foundation, Stellenbosch and South Africa House (the South African Embassy), London.
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