Father Frans Claerhout, acclaimed artist, priest and humanitarian was born on in Pittem, western Belgium 1919. After completing his studies, he immigrated to South Africa in 1946 as a Catholic missionary. He was initially posted to the Orange Free State, where he worked among the black people living in and around Bloemfontein. He served primarily in Bloemfontein, Thabanchu and his beloved Tweespruit mission station.

Although Claerhout did not receive formal instruction in painting, his charming style appealed to art lovers and investors alike and he held his first solo exhibition in Johannesburg in 1961.

His artworks - characterised by their warm colours, thick impasto paint, exaggerated forms, humour and compassion - were exhibited widely in South Africa, as well as in Belgium, Canada, Germany, the United States and the United Kingdom. His subject matter consisted of people and animals that he encountered in his daily life. His donkey depictions are particularly well known. He primarily worked with oil paints on canvas or rough surfaces, but he also experimented widely with other media e.g. modeling in clay and wood-carving, wall-paintings, monotypes and linocuts, stained glass set in concrete windows and a prolific stream of drawings in charcoal, pen-and-ink or crayon. About four years before his death in 2006, it was alleged that forgeries were made and sold as originals by an art dealer.

He had a tremendous sense of giving and sharing. He used his substance to expand, sustain and enrich the work evangelisation. A tour of the Archdiocese of Bloemfontein, would impress anyone that Frans Claerhout was passionate in preaching the Gospel and to make Jesus Christ known by giving huge sums of money to building of churches and halls. He also applied his art to his buildings.

Therefore, the impact of his missionary endeavour in the Archdiocese of Bloemfontein has left us a legacy. His generosity, open heart, his sense of humour, his fraternal spirit within the Community of the Oblate of Mary Immaculate, the love for the poor people, his art and poetry will always inspire us to seek life from the Gospel of Jesus Christ

“Ek dra jou sag daar is geen blomme in my land

Geen hemel, geen hel  Alleen maar moeder sag”

Jy bid, my kind “gee my my daaglikse brood”

Hier is ‘n blom vir jou daaglikse troos!

U kan wag , my God

U het baie tyd!

Ek nie!

Help my lewe

Voor ek sterf!


A much-loved artist and priest, Father Claerhout died in his sleep in July 2006, aged 87.