The brush, the ink, the ink stone and the paper or silk are the four great treasures of Chinese painting. The earliest paintings date from 400 BC. |
Brushes were made out of animal hairs glued to a hollow bamboo tube and inks was made from pine soot mixed with glue and hardened into a stick which would be rubbed with water on an ink stone made of non-porous, carved and decorated slate.
Silk was employed for painting until the invention of the paper by Cai Lun in 106 AD.
A century after the entire collection of Han paitings was destroyed.
Along with painting, calligraphy was greatly appreciated in China, and sometimes was considered the purest form of painting. The oldest famous calligrapher (4th century) were Wang Xizhi, who created a collection of poems named “Lanting Xu” and Wei Shuo, the creator the rules of the Regular Chinese Script.
By the 4th century, Gu Kaizhi became the first proficient painter of China. He left some writings about painting theory and his most famous creations are: “Admonitions of the Instructress to Court Ladies” and "Wise and Benevolent Women".
During the Sui and Tang dynasties, painting had a great development, and court subjects were the topics more used, but just a few of these survived. The walls of Tang tombs are an advance of the rich vivid frescoes created. Great painters of these periods are Dong Yuan with his landscape paintings, and Zhan Ziqian, who paited the famous “Strolling About In Spring”.
In the Song dynasty were created academies under imperial support and various schools of painting surged trying to show the harmony of man and nature. The principal subject in the Northern Song was the natural world that has set a mark on landscape painting, while the Southern Song preferred intimate subjects which frequently included flowers and birds. Some famous painters of this period are Wen Tong, famed for ink paintings of bamboo; Liang Kai, who created the Zen school of Chinese art; and Zhang Zeduan, the notable painter of the world famous “Along the River During Qingming Festival” landscape.
Under the Mongol Yuan dynasty many officers retired from Chinese court to painting as a symbol of patriotism and originating the "literati" school, a style based on the 10th century technique that had a combination of high methods with simples subjects, like the paintings of plum flowers. There are a significant number of paintings preserved from this period.
Great Painters during the Mongol domination were Wang Meng, who painted "the Forest Grotto"; Ni Can, a master of the ink paintings of bamboo; Zhao Mengfu, the scholar who returned to the crude style of the 8th century and the creator of the modern Chinese landscape painting; and Qian Xuan, a nationalist who reproduce the Tang dynasty style of painting.
Under the Ming dynasty, Chinese painting developed significantly from the attainments in painted art during the previous dynasties. The traditional subjects were broadly used including bamboo and plum blossom or decorated bird and flower paintings. Other new painting skills were innovated and calligraphy was much more perfectly combined with the art of painting. Chinese painting achieved its pinnacle in the mid-, late- Ming period. Painting was produced in a great scale, several schools were founded including Songjiang School and Huating School, and an important number of masters emerged, like Matteo Ricci (Italian), Wen Zhengming and Xu Wei, the founder of modern painting in China.
The progress of Chinese painting continued during the Manchu Qing dynasty, but the traditional art was influenced by foreign art. Some important painters are: Giuseppe Castiglione (Italian), a favorite of the imperial court; the Four Wangs, who reproduced Song and Yuan styles in a conventional way; Bada Shanren a great painter and calligrapher; and Shitao, that painted "10,000 Ugly Ink Dots".
During this dynasty was also founded the great Shanghai School of traditional arts. In this place, many notable and innovative masters appeared ending the literati tradition of Chinese art. The painters list include to Wang Zhen, Yang Borun and Sha Menghai (calligraphist).
In the Republic period of China, Western style oil painting was introduced to the country. Later, the Communist government encouraged employing socialist realism in paintings, but gradually traditional Chinese painting experienced an important revival.
Today, there are various professional art circles in the entire country; a it is common to find wall murals in rural areas on wall as open-air painting exhibitions.
Prominent modern Chinese painters include Huang Binhong, Qi Baishi, Wu Changshi, Fu Baoshi, Zhang Chongren and Wang Kangle.
More about Calligraphy
There have been developed various handwriting styles which has become in a high art form through the years.
Today, there are a variety of scripts:
- Seal script: the archaic form found on oracle bones.
- Lishu script script: the clerical style and was used in inscriptions on stone.
- Kaishu script script: the regular style closest to the modern printed form.
- Cao shu cursive, grass or running script: the most individual handwritten style.
Rulers, poets and intellectuals over centuries have left instances of their calligraphy cut into stone at prettiness spots, on mountains and in grottoes, gravess and temples all over the country, for example in the caves at Longmen.