Saturday, January 12, 2013

Pierneef style bonsai.

I am going to try and define the style here a little bit more as described in Charles Ceronio's book, Bonsai styles of the world.

I am going to define the style at the end of my observation and would appreciate any help with the interpretation of my observations. Thanks already to the guys from SA Bonsai Forum for their help this far.

There is a general misconception that Pierneef painted only Acacia trees - a lot of the trees seen in his paintings are not Acacia trees. Species he also painted were Baobab (Adansonia digitata), Sheppard tree (Boschia albitrunca), Bergkaree’ (Rhus leptodictya) with its characteristically bent branches, Boekenhout’ (Faurea saligna), Bushwillow (Combretum species) and the Tree wisteria (Bolusanthus speciosus).

"Pierneef would examine a tree so minutely that he knew it as well as a carpenter knows the grain and texture of his wood. His sketchpads were filled with careful drawings of the flat-topped acacias, majestic camelthorns, the angular shapes of the leadwoods, the wild seringas with their delicate crowns of shiny leaves and the baobabs. Each sketch captured the structure and essence of the tree sketched."

" Pierneef was an impressionist, if we want to figure out the Pierneef style, we have to look at his paintings, most established artists do not take a landscape with trees and just paint the trees and the landscape exactly as it is, that wouldn't be art at all, but just a copy of reality, with little to no artistic creativity thrown in...
The answer to the Pierneef style is in the paintings, artists work with dimensions, so the tree's dimensions will be in the paintings, there will be some variation in it, but then we must ask the question of which tree in which painting did Charles Ceronio have in mind when he developed the Pierneef style for bonsai?"


The Pierneef style are defined by the open umbrella shape. It could be a one crown tree or a tree with pads shaped in the open umbrella, groups of tree with an overall open umbrella shape outline etc.

I started by studying one of his paintings of Acacia trees:

I overlayed the trunk, branches and twigs with lines to see if I can find any patterns:

When looking at other paintings where he painted taller trees it seems that the proportions A, B,C and D proportions plays an important role.

Next I took a tree from nature that seems to fit the proportions and did a comparison:

The proportions and angles seems to be almost the same. I virted the proportions and angles on a view of his paintings and in general the follow the same patterns.

Defining the style:

The angle and length of the trunk before the first interruption:
The trunk can be any length and at any angle.

From the first interruption of the trunkline:
In general the trunk splits into two secondary trunks before the secondary trunks splits into 5 tertiary trunks. The tertiary trunks splits into many twiggy growth ending with the canopy. Where splits occur 90 degrees angles are quite common.  Only few other angles are used and are repeated regularly. Front the front of the tree branches could be 90 degrees vertical or horizontal. From the first interruption to the twiggy growth the bends seems to get  progressively more defined.

The canopy
The width of the canopy seems to be twice the height of the area from the first interruption of the trunk to the height of the tree. In most of his paintings individual canopies are not much thicker than the trunk where the trunk meets the soil.

In general taper of the trunk to branches to twiggy growth is very gentle. Massive basal flare is not visible in any of his paintings. A nebari (exposed roots meeting the trunk) in general is not visible in his paintings.

Deadwood branches is quite common in Pierneef's paintings.

When painting groupings notice also the outline of the grouping still shows the very flat open umbrella:

(Please note that the above is a personal interpretation of the style and not to set a standard for the style.)

 I don't have a true Pierneef style bonsai so I am going to train this one as my first attemp:

Will update in winter.