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Form & Content of Chinese Brush Painting

The principal forms of traditional Chinese painting are hanging scroll, album of paintings, fan surface and long horizontal scroll.

Hanging scrolls are both horizontal and vertical. They are mounted and hung on the wall. For an album of paintings the artist paints on a certain size of xuan paper, then binds a number of paintings into an album, convenient for storage. The surface of both folding fans and round fans is painted. Before people had electric fans or air-conditioning, they used fans made of bamboo strips pasted with paper or silk. Artists painted the fan's surface as recreation. In time this developed into a form of painting that has been handed down to the present. Folding fans, usually made of paper, are used by men, while round fans, generally of silk, are used by women. When artists paint on the silk, the fan appears fine and elegant. The long horizontal scroll is also called a hand scroll. It is less than fifty centimetres high, but several to a hundred metres long. Pictures on long horizontal scrolls are not restricted as to time, whether seasons or decades. A hundred or a thousand human figures can be portrayed in one painting. After being mounted, it can be appreciated section by section. Riverside Scene at Qingming Festival (Qingming Festival, when Chinese people visit ancestral tombs, falls on April 5 or 6 each year) is a famous horizontal scroll from the Song Dynasty (960 -1279). The painting is 52.5 centimetres long.

Traditional Chinese paintings can be classified according to subject matter into figure paintings, landscapes and flower-and-bird paintings. Landscapes represent a major category in traditional Chinese painting, mainly depicting the natural scenery of mountains and rivers.

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