Piet van Heerden was born on 19 October 1917 to South African missionaries in Malawi. In 1927 he was sent to boarding school in Wellington. Van Heerden continued his education at the Cradock High School where he started painting, and received his first formal art training from a Catholic nun.
The death of Hugo Naudé’s wife served as a catalyst for Piet van Heerden’s move to Worcester in 1939. He continued to study under Naudé for the following two years, until the death of Hugo Naudé in 1941. Naudé’s tutorage is evident in the landscapes, figures and portraits that Piet van Heerden painted.
He is frequently considered a typical exponent of ‘Cape Impressionism’. The Early Cape Impressionists drew their influences from European Impressionism and the works of artists such as Pieter Wenning, Hugo Naudé and Nita Spilhaus show their own personal styles adapted to South African conditions.
Van Heerden received popular support for his picturesque Boland landscapes, ranging from the Overberg wheat fields to the vineyards and farms around Paarl and Stellenbosch, and the Koue Bokkeveld near Ceres. He also enjoyed painting the semi-desert scenes of the Northern Cape and Southern Namibia, as well as Namaqualand during springtime.
In 1944 he had his first solo exhibition in Cape Town, followed by a further 16 solo exhibitions which were held across South Africa during his lifetime. He also participated in numerous group exhibitions in South Africa from 1945 to 1990.
He took part in an exhibition of South African art at the Tate Gallery in London in 1948.
It was in 1952 that he began giving part-time classes at the Michaelis School of Fine Art. At this time he was also commissioned to paint a portrait of the Speaker of the House of Assembly, Mr JH Conradie.
He participated in the first Quadrennial Exhibition of South African Art in 1956.
Piet van Heerden died in 1991, at the age of 73. His ashes were buried near Kamieskroon in his beloved Namaqualand.