Gregoire Boonzaier was born on 31 July 1909 in Cape Town. He is one of six children of the well known cartoonist, DC Boonzaier (1865-1950). Born into an artistic family, Gregoire began drawing at age six and it was around this time that he met Pieter Wenning and Anton van Wouw, artist who were regular guests of his parents.
Seven years later he got a taste of painting when Moses Kottler, artist friend of his father, bought him his first paint set. At age fourteen the artist’s first oil paintings were exhibited at the Ashbey art gallery and later at the Darter gallery, Cape Town. By the time he finished school in 1927 he had already sold 30 oil paintings. A year later he embarked on his first solo exhibition at the Ashbey gallery where 13 of the 27 exhibited works were sold. After this he has a number of solo exhibitions in Cape Town, Stellenbocsh, Johannesburg and Pretoria.
In 1935 he moved to London to begin studying at the Heatherley School of Art, under the guidance of Bernard Adams. He regularly took part in group exhibitions in London as well as sending work back to Cape Town. While in Europe, he traveled to France, Russia and Spain where he painted with Terrance McCaw. After his two year stint at Heatherley, he enrolled at the Central School of Art and Craft, where he specialised in graphic art.
After his study, Gregoire returned home and set about establishing the New Group, a union of professional artist, with Lippy Lipschitz, Terrance McCaw and Walter Battiss. A union that Gregoire eventually became chairman of. In 1944, he became a founding member of the South African Arts Union, and represented this union for six years on the Board of Trustees of the SA National Art Museum in Cape Town. He also did much ground breaking work through solo exhibitions and lectures that he gave in the platteland to promote art in these areas.
By 1958 he received his first of many accolades for artistry from the South African Academy for Science and Art. There after Gregoire partook in a number of retrospective exhibitions presented by the Pretoria art galley, by Sanlam to celebrate their 50th anniversary and Potchefstroom University to celebrate his 50th year as professional artist in 1978.
In 1980 he received a honorary doctorate from the University of the Orange Free State. During the next several years a number of retrospective exhibitions were presented by Stellenbosch University, University of the Orange Free State and the University of Pretoria where he received a silver honorary medal.
In 1989, after his 100th solo exhibition, in Cape Town, Gregoire received the Cape arts medal from the SA Arts Union (Western Cape) and the FAK silver medal and certificate for exceptional Cultural achievement. A year later the University of Pretoria published a book on his tree studies.
In 1994 an exhibition was arranged by the University of Stellenbosch A commemorative catalogue to celebrate Gregoire’s 85th birthday was published to accompany the exhibition. Soon after this Gregoire was awarded an honorary doctorate by the University of the Western Cape.
In 1997 an exhibition of self-portraits took place in the Stellenbosch Art Gallery to celebrate his 88th birthday. A book by Hester Bosman about Gregoire’s self-portraits was published. In December the same year he received an honorary doctorate from the University of Stellenbosch.
A humble and attentive person, Gregoire Boonzaier, possesses a wonderful sense of humour and an innate charm. He is well schooled in a number of subjects especially art, literature, music and philosophy. He is also a conosuier of fine food and wine and a pretty handy cook himself. He is highly disciplined and this has allowed him to continue working constantly for nearly 80 years now.
Although Gregoire prefers working with oil paint, he also enjoys working with pen and ink, water colours, pastels, linocut and conte.
Gregoire sadly passed away on 22 April 2005.