Van Wouw moved from his native Holland to Pretoria, South Africa in 1890. He taught drawing whilst working as a gunsmith. He received the commission to provide murals to decorate Pretoria railway station in 1898 to mark the opening of the railway from Pretoria to the Indian Ocean coast, which led to a commission from Sammy Marks for a statue of the President of Transvaal, Paul Kruger. He then moved to Rome to further his studies, whilst there his first wife died, but there followed a long successful career as a sculptor. Although he received many official commissions for portrait and monumental bronzes, his reputation today rests upon the celebrated small bronzes of Boers, Bantu and Bushman figures that came from his Johannesburg studio. The Fine Art Society held his only exhibition in Britain in 1909.
He had a huge admiration for the Boer people and his time with them never seemed to leave his work. He portrayed the indigenous peoples of the Cape and those who lived the north of the Vaal River. Among these are many small sculptures that are considered to be his finest. They reflect a distinct interest in the human form, with great attention given to facial expression, emotion and composition.