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 Van 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 pictures. 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.
A European Town (one of Pierneef's first etchings)