Frans Claerhout was born in Pittem, West Flanders in 1919, and moved to South Africa as a missionary for the Catholic Church in 1946, at the age of 27. He moved after completing his training for the priesthood. His first post was in the Transvaal but in 1948 he was transferred to the Orange Free State. He stayed on a farm near Bloemfontein in the Free State province of South Africa. He worked as a priest and in his spare time he concentrated on his art.

Claerhout was a self-taught painter who created landscapes and figures in oil paint. He started painting more after relocating toThaba Nchu in 1960, and became famous for his unique style, which used vivid colors and incorporated items such as donkeys, sunflowers and figures of people he met through his everyday life. His work was inspired by Christian spirituality and Claerhout he painted biblical scenes. He also worked in pastel, ink, pencil and charcoal.

In May 2000, Claerhout painted a golden bird on the flyleaf of a book that he gifted to novelist Zakes Mda. Mda subsequently dedicated his fifth novel, The Madonna of Excelsior, to the golden bird painted by Father Frans Claerhout.

Claerhout died of pneumonia at age 87 in 2006. He died in his sleep after being admitted to a hospital in Bloemfontein. He led a solitary life and before his death, he lived at the St. Francis Catholic Mission in Tweespruit, Free State, a home for pensioned Catholic priests.