Pierneef en die Uniegebou / Pierneef and the Union Buildings

JH Pierneef (1886-1957)

Uniegebou / Union Buildings, Pretoria, 1922. Gemengde media/ Mix media (15.5 x 22.5 cm). Versameling / Collection: La Motte Museum, Franschhoek

Uniegeboue vanaf Prinsenhof

Linosnee / Linocut. 28 x 36.2 cm. La Motte Ontvangs / Reception. Versameling / Collection: La Motte Wynlandgoed / Wine Estate

Uniegeboue en doringboom

Linosnee / Linocut. 14.9 x 22.1 cm. Pierneef a La Motte Restaurant. Versameling / Collection: La Motte Wynlandgoed / Wine Estate


Linosnee / Linocut. 7.8 x 12.4 cm. La Motte Kantore / Offices. Versameling / Collection: La Motte Wynlandgoed / Wine Estate


Between 1910 and 1913, the Union Buildings, an important landmark in Pretoria, were erected on Meintjeskop. The subject of Meintjeskop features in more than 70 known works created by Pierneef between 1905 and 1948.

This hill had special significance to Pierneef, who often undertook field trips there with his Natural Science teacher, Dr Beyers, exploring various elements of nature, from plants to rocks. This is also the hill that Pierneef explored with mentor Frans Oerder — the so-called Donkey Camp was situated on this hill and Pierneef’s earliest drawings under the mentorship of Oerder had this as their subject.

Other artist friends such as Pieter Wenning and Erich Mayer would sit on the slopes of Meintjeskop and sketch Pretoria, at that time a small town surrounded by open veld. From Pierneef’s house in De Waal Street he also looked out on the hill, with the Apies River in the foreground. His first painting that was sold, and bought by Emil Schweickerdt, in 1910, was one of the 70 artworks with this hill as a focal point.

As a result of his regular excursions to and the nostalgia attached to Meintjeskop, Pierneef found the erection of the Union Buildings on this hill, his hill, hard to accept. To him, the Union Buildings were a symbol of British Imperialism in South Africa, also not favoured by Pierneef.

Due to conflicting views of what was happening on Meintjeskop, Pierneef was so emotionally attached that he made various sketches, drawings and paintings of the area during the construction period.

Collections of works featuring Donkey Camp, Union Buildings and Meintjeskop:
University of Pretoria, Pretoria Art Museum, Museum Africa, Johannesburg


Duffey, A. 2010. J H Pierneef and the Union Buildings. De Arte no. 82.