Chinese painting has a rich history as an enduring art form and is well known throughout the world. Traditionally, Chinese painting is done on rice paper or thin silk, using a variety of brushes, Chinese ink and dye. Chinese painting covers a variety of subjects: portrait, landscape, flowers, birds, animals, and insects.
Traditional Chinese painting is known as “guo hua (国画)”. Like calligraphy, the painting is done using a brush dipped in black or colored ink, usually on paper or silk. The finished work can be mounted on scrolls and hung. Traditional painting has also been done on walls, porcelain and lacquer ware.
There are two main techniques in Chinese painting:
- "Gong-bi (工笔)" or meticulous attention to detail, referring mainly to portraits, and
- "xie yi (写意)" or freehand, referring mainly to landscapes.
History of Chinese Painting
From Han (202 BC) to Tang (618-906) Dynasties, artists painted many detailed, elaborate portraits of the royal court. Some of the ancient works depicting court lives of emperors, their ladies, and imperial horses have been preserved in tombs and burial sites. Tang Dynasty also saw the beginning of landscape paintings, often referred to as "Shanshui" ("mountain water”) paintings. These are less precise and allowed for individual freedom in interpreting the subjects.
The time from the Five Dynasties period (220-960) to the Northern Song period (960-1127) is known as the “Golden Age of Chinese Landscape Painting”. Using bold strokes and black lines, artists depicted rolling hills, rivers and stones. Others used softer brushwork to paint peaceful scenes of nature, birds and animals.
In Song Dynasty (960-1279), landscape paintings almost attained a mythical quality with blurred outlines of mountains and mists.
During Yuan Dynasty (1279-1368), painters began adding poetry and calligraphy to their works to express their thoughts and feelings.
Color printing techniques perfected during Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) allowed for illustrated books and manuals on the techniques of Chinese painting.
Western art exerted their influence on China in the late 1800s and 1900s. Some painters, after studying abroad, returned to their homeland and incorporated the best of both cultures in their art.
Famous Chinese Painters
Each Dynasty in Chinese history had its share of famous painters. Their names are too numerous to list here. Many fine books have been written on Chinese painting, often with beautiful illustrations. Interested students can consult these for more in depth understanding of this fascinating topic.
Guilin’s natural beauty has inspired generations of painters. Many masterpieces of landscape painting can be seen in and around Guilin.
I updated this article on December 23, 2013
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