Gregoire Boonzaier
( 1909 - 2005 ) 

22 April 2005
 by Andries Loots

Today 22 April 2005, South Africa bid farewell to one of its greatest and oldest artists Gregoire Boonzaier who passed away at the ripe age of 95 years.

Born 1909 in Newlands, Cape Town. He was a painter of landscapes, portraits, still life, seascapes and figures and Worked in oil, waterclolour, ink, wash, pencil and charcoal. He also produced uneditioned linocuts.

Gregoire studied between 1916 - 39 at the Heatherley School of Art and the London Central School of Art, London. 

Gregoire was the son of the late DC Boonzaier, also an artist and he therefore had early contact with other artists like Pieter Wenning, Moses Kottler and Anton Van Wouw who often visited the family. Moses Kottler gave him a box of paints and this set him on the way of becoming one of South Africa's most renowned artists. His father opposed any formal training and believed that he should learn only from the various practicing artists around him. In 1932 he set up his own studio in Cape town and in 1934 financed a trip to England from a very successful exhibition. In 1937 he returned to South Africa where he became the founding member of the New Group. He was the Chairman for a decade and for six years he represented the Cape Town SAAA on the Board of the South African National Gallery, Cape Town. He did a limited edition print of six watercolours and ink drawings of District Six, Cape Town. He visited Venice and this inspired some of his works.

' Three Oaks Wynberg '  1975
Oil on canvas 59 x 70 cm

'Still life'  1986
Oil on canvas on board 41 x 53 cm 
He participated in exhibitions since 1925 which included an exhibition in the Tate gallery in London in 1948. He was awarded numerous prizes and awards for his role in art during his long career. The National Order was presented to him in 1999 by Nelson Mandela. His work is represented in various private and corporate collections in South Africa and abroad and there are quite a few publications on his life and work.

His most valuable contribution to South African art was his effort as Chairman of the New Group during the years when South Africa's younger artists needed an energetic and progressive spokesman.
Another highlight of Boonzaier's career was his teaching mission in the countryside. He has earned his living solely from his art since boyhood. The influence of the almost revolutionary approach of Pieter Wenning and subtle influences from the work of van Gogh, Utrillo, Braque and Christopher Wood contributed to the early development of a personal style. This style was fresh and new for the Thirties. It was also well received by South African viewers because it contained few visual shocks and was supported by sensitive and knowledgeable skill. 

Gregoire produced consistently during the last 80 years, developing along the Cape impressionistic style and his work is well established at auction, both in South Africa and abroad (Christies). 

With his passing a chapter in the History of South Africa's art is now concluded.
Images courtesy: Stellenbosch Art Gallery


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