You are here > Home > Quick Navigation > Painting & Calligraphy


An important part of the country's cultural heritage, the traditional Chinese painting is distinguished from Western art in that it is executed on xuan paper (or silk) with the Chinese brush, Chinese ink and mineral and vegetable pigments.

To attain proficiency in this branch of art calls for assiduous exercise, a good control of the brush, and a feel and knowledge of the qualities of xuan paper and Chinese ink.

Before setting a brush to paper, the painter must conceive a well-composed draft in his mind, drawing on his imagination and store of experience, Once he starts to paint, he will normally have to complete the work at one go, denied the possibility of any alteration of wrong strokes.

Xuan paper is most suitable for Chinese painting. It is of the right texture to allow the writing brush wet with Chinese ink and held in a trained hand, to move freely on it, making strokes varying from dark to light, from solid to hollow. These soon turn out to be human figures, plants and flowers, birds, fish and insects, full of interest and life.

Many a Chinese painter is at the same time a poet and calligrapher. He will often add a poem in his own hand on the painting, which invariably carries an impression of his seal. The resulting piece of work is usually an integrated whole of four branches of Chinese art-- poetry, calligraphy, painting and seal-cutting.

It is difficult to tell how long the art of painting has existed in China. Pots of 5,000-6,000 years ago were painted in colour with patterns of plants, fabrics, and animals, reflecting various aspects of the life of primitive clan communities. These may be considered the beginnings of Chinese painting.

China entered the slave society about 2000 B.C. Though no paintings of that period have ever come to light, that society witnessed the emergence of a magnificent bronze culture, and bronzes can only be taken as a composite art of painting and sculpture.

In 1949 from a tomb of the Warring States Period (475-221 B. C.) was unearthed a painting on silk of human figures, dragons and phoenixes. The earliest work on silk ever discovered in China, it measures about 30 cm long by 20 cm wide.

From this and other early paintings on silk it may be easily seen that the ancients were already familiar with the art of the writing or painting brush, for the strokes show vigour or elegance whichever was desired. Paintings of this period are strongly religious or mythological in themes.

Paintings on paper appeared much later than those on silk for the simple reason that the invention of silk preceded that of paper by a long historical period.

In 1964, when a tomb dating to the Jin Dynasty (265- 420 A. D) was excavated at Astana in Turpan, Xinjiang, a coloured painting on paper was discovered. It shows, on top, the sun, the moon and the Big Dipper and, below, the owner of fan in his hand. A portrayal in vivid lines of the life of a feudal land-owner, measuring 106.5 cm long 47 cm high, it is the only known painting on paper of such antiquity in China.

Chinese painting is an art. The painting is done using a brush on paper or silk, often with black ink alone. It is a monochromatic work of art derived, perhaps, from calligraphy. A Chinese painting is a distinctive object based on centuries-old traditions common to many things in China.

The roots of Chinese painting can be traced back to Chinese Neolithic pottery. Chinese painting was closely related to crafts like pottery as observed in the decorations used on decorative bronzes, carved jade and lacquer ware such as figures of fish, frogs, deer, birds, flowers, tree leaves and dancing people which dates back to around 6,000 to 7,000 years old. Paintings were mainly painted on silk or walls before the Tang Dynasty, and mural paintings were particularly popular. The earliest Chinese characters were pictographs.

Classical Chinese painting can be divided into three categories: landscapes, figures and birds-and-flowers. Throughout the course of Chinese painting, images of emperors, philosophers, and court ladies provide role models from the past; landscapes and bird-and-flower paintings demonstrate the central place of nature in Chinese thought. Religious paintings reflect both the Daoist philosophy native to China and Buddhism.

The range of themes depicted in figure painting was extended far beyond religious ideas during the Song Dynasty (960-1127 AD). The art of figure painting during the T'ang Dynasty (618-906 AD) was considered the golden age of figure painting. Historical subjects and scenes of courtly life were popular, and the human figure was portrayed with a robustness and monumentality unequalled in Chinese painting. Paintings of historical character and stories of everyday life became extremely popular. Also, techniques were further refined.

Landscape painting had already established an independent form of expression by the 4th century. It gradually developed into the two separate styles mainly "blue-and-green" and "ink-and-wash" landscapes. The blue-and-green landscape used bright blue, green and red pigments derived from minerals to create a richly decorative style. The ink-and-wash landscape relied on vivid brushwork with varying degrees of intensity of ink to express the artist's conception of nature, his own emotions and individuality.

Flower-and-bird painting was separated from decorative art to form an independent genre around the 9th century. Many well-known artists painted in this genre during the Song Dynasty and their themes included a rich variety of flowers, fruits, insects and fish. Many of the scholarly painters working with ink and brush used a great economy of line. They produced paintings illustrating things such as plum blossoms, orchids, bamboo, chrysanthemums, pines and cypresses which reflect their own ideals and character.

Chinese traditional painting is highly regarded throughout the world for its theory, expression, and techniques.

According to the means of expression, Chinese painting can be divided into two categories: the xieyi school (free hand brushwork) and the gongbi school (detailed brushwork). The xieyi school is marked by exaggerated forms and freehand brush work. The gongbi school is characterized by close attention to detail and fine brush work.

Xieyi, however, is the fundamental approach to Chinese painting. It constitues an aesthetic theory which, above all, emphasizes the sentiments. Even in ancient times, Chinese artists were unwilling to be restrained by reality. A famous artist of the Jin Dynasty Gu Kaizhi (c. 345-406) was the first to put forward the theory of "making the form show the spirit". In his opinion a painting should serve as a means to convey not only the appearance of an object, but express how the artist looks at it. Gu's views were followed by theories such as "likeness in spirit resides in unlikeness" and "a painting should be something between likeness and unlikeness". Guided by these theories, Chinese artists disregard the limitations of proportion, perspective, and light. Take Qi Baishi, the modern painter, for example. He does not paint shrimps, insects, birds, and flowers as they are in nature; only their essence has shown as a result of the artist's long-term observation and profound understanding of the subjects.

Different from Western paintings, a Chinese painting is not restricted by the focal point in its perspective. The artist may paint on a long and narrow piece of paper or silk all the scenes along the Yangtse River. It can be said that the adoption of shifting perspective is one of the characteristics of Chinese painting. Why do the Chinese artists emphasize the shifting perspective? They want to break away from the restrictions of time and space and to include in their pictures both things which are far and things which are near. Also, the artists find that in life people view their surroundings from a mobile focal point. As one walks along a river or in a garden, one sees everything on the way. The shifting perspective enables the artist to express freely what he wants.

Chinese calligraphy and Chinese painting are closely related because lines are used in both. Chinese people have turned simple lines into a highly-developed form of art. Lines are used not only to draw contours but to express the artist's concepts and feelings. For different subjects and different purposes a variety of lines are used. They may be straight or curved, hard or soft, thick or thin, pale or dark, and the ink may be dry or running. The use of lines and strokes is one of the elements that give Chinese painting its unique qualities.

Traditional Chinese painting is a combination in the same picture of the arts of poetry, calligraphy, painting, and seal engraving. In ancient times most artists were poets and calligraphers. Su Dongpo (1037-1101), Ni Yunlin (1306-1374), and Dong Qichang (1555-1636) were such artists. To the Chinese, "painting in poetry and poetry in painting" has been one of the criteria for excellent works of art. Inscriptions and seal impressions help to explain the painter's ideas and sentiments and also add decorative beauty to the painting. Ancient artists liked to paint pines, bamboo, and plum blossoms. When inscriptions like "Exemplary conduct and nobility of character" were made, those plants were meant to embody the qualities of people who were upright and were ready to help each other under hard conditions. For Chinese graphic art, poetry, calligraphy, painting, and seal engraving are necessary parts, which supplement and enrich one another.

Since the turn of the century, China has experienced great political, economic, and cultural changes, and the art of painting is no exception. While traditional Chinese painting still occupies an important place in the life of modern Chinese, many painters now desire to express their experience of new times. By combining new modes of expression with traditional Chinese painting techniques, they are opening up a vast, new world of artistic expression.

Page 1 of 1    1 

Tools & Materials of Chinese Brush Painting
Traditional Chinese painting has its special materials and tools, consisting of brushes of different types, ink and pigments of different textures, xuan paper, silk and various kinds of ink slabs.
Technique Characteristics of Chinese Brush Painting
The technique of traditional Chinese painting is divided into two major styles: meticulous (gongbi) and freehand (xieyi). Meticulous style requires great care and grace; the strict composition has fine elaboration.
Instructions of Chinese Brush Painting
To paint well, you should, first of all, learn how to hold the brush.
History of Chinese Brush Painting
Art of the Far East has long fascinated the Western world. To appreciate the beauty of the art and culture, one should have a basic understanding of Chinese cultural traditions and history.
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.
Painting in Han Dynasty (205 BC - 220 AD)
The son of Qin Shi Huang Di, Er Shi Huang Di was unable to hold on to his father's reign. Three years after the death of Qin Shi Huang, peasants revolted and overthrew the central government. A certain peasant, Liu Bang, who served as a minor official, managed to sway the peasants and neighbouring forces against the incumbent rulers.
Painting in Tang Dynasty (220 AD - 589 AD)
After three hundred years of turbulence and warfare, China was briefly reunited in one single state in 589 A.D. The short-lived Sui Dynasty lasted merely thirty years, when revolt broke out and the Sui was overthrown by a new dynasty, the Tang in 618 A.D.
Painting in Southern Song Dynasty (906 AD - 1279 AD)
The Jin state defeated the Song rulers in 1127, the descendants of Hui Zong fled south and established the new capital in Hangzhou.
Painting in Six Dynasties (220 AD - 589 AD)

Painting in Qing Dynasty (1644-1911 A.D.)
The Ming Dynasty came to an end in 1644 and was replaced by the Manchurians from the north. The Qing, meaning pure, assimilated the Chinese culture and art and would rule over China for nearly three hundred years.
Painting in Shang, Zhou, Warring States and Qin Dynasty
During Shang Dynasty (1766-1122 B.C.), complex forms of writings were developed called ideograms, pictograms and phonograms.
Painting in Northern Song Dynasty (960 AD - 1279 AD)
With the fall of the Tang Dynasty, the golden age of China was in decline. Once again, China was divided into five states. The Five Dynasties (906-960) produced undistinguished artists. However, the period of unrest laid foundation for the The Song Dynasty (960-1279 A.D.), which reunited China in 906 A.D.
Painting in Ming Dynasty (1368 AD - 1644AD)
Towards the end of the fourteenth century, unrest grew within China against the alien invaders, the Mongols. Coupled with famine, unrelenting droughts, general revolts were brewing in all areas of China.
Painting in The Neolithic Period (5000BC - 1700BC)
Evidence of the beginnings of art form in China could be traced back to the Neolithic period, 5000 years B.C., in the cradle of the Huang River (Yellow River).

Page 1 of 1    1 

Quick Navigation

New Article