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TRIBUTE TO GREGOIRE BOONZAAIER RIP 1909 – 2005 (article first published : 2005-05-2)

Durban visual artist, John Smith has penned this tribute to one of South Africa’s most well-known painters, Gregoire Boonzaaier who died recently.

Gregoire Boonzaaier, possibly one of the last Gentleman painters, died a few days ago at Onrus River. With Gregoire’s passing goes a man who had a long history in our South African art. He had a hand in setting up some of the mechanisms that endure to this day and never, in his long career, did he ever lose his enthusiasm for painting.

He was born in Newlands in the Cape, son of D.C Boonzaaier the well-known cartoonist. From early childhood he was exposed to some of the best and most famous South African artists of the time. He studied at Heatherley’s and the Central School of Art in England.

When he came back to South Africa he became a founder member of “The New Group” which he chaired for a decade. The aim of the group was to make art more accessible to the public and to create markets for the artists who had committed to a career as full time painters.

Gregoire was probably the most famous of the second-generation ‘Cape Impressionists’ and influenced decades of artists by his style and enthusiasm. He gave up much of his time teaching young artists on the Cape Flats and outlying areas. Conrad Thys who served as Chairman of the S.A Association of Art (Now SANAVA) for many years was a product of that teaching.

There is little doubt that Gregoire was a great human being and a great artist. Even though there are those to try and denigrate what he achieved and the legacy he has left us, one thing is sure - he will be remembered and loved for a very long time. He was a true and committed artist who, even against his father’s wishes, became a painter and stuck to it up until his death.

Gregoire Boonzaaier was a great role model and we could all do far worse than emulate his life style and commitment. Although he was successful, he lived modestly and healthily and went to his studio every day of his life. He loved to paint and we can be thankful for that, as he has left us a great legacy. By his endeavours he left this world a far better place. He deserves to be remembered. RIP. – John Smith




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