A Brief History of Chinese Brush Painting
Note-- This is brief according to book standards, but might be quite long according to internet standards.
far as seven thousand years ago in China, flowers, fish, and geometry
designs were made on cave walls and on clay pottery. Confucius
(500 BC) said, "The kind man delights in [likes] mountains and
the wise man delights in [likes] water." Taoist masters also
promoted the beauty of nature. Thus appreciation for flowers, birds,
landscapes, etc. formed the central theme in poetry essays and in
paintings. Since Chinese writing required the use of brushes, ink,
and water (tools of the scholar), painting became a scholarly pursuit
and was intertwined with calligraphy and poetry. Brush strokes in
calligraphy were applied in painting, expanding in high levels of
expressiveness, and exploiting the movement of the brush in
gradations of ink and color.
has been a popular art form throughout Chinese history - the start of
the heightened growth took place in the Sung Dynasty (10th century
AD). At one time, the Sung palace had an art school for painters.
Since the capital was in the North, the landscape paintings reflected
the terrain of high cliffs, large rocks, and old tree trunks typical
of the area. Painting peonies, lotuses, narcissus, and chrysanthemums
were popular. Su Shi's bamboo (sometimes in red) and Li Kung-Lin's
horse are well known works. In the late Sung period, some artists
somewhat simplified their work with fewer strokes. Mu Ku's "Six
Persimmons" show the fruits in varying gradations of shades -
this resembles modern art and is perhaps the precedent of modern
the Yuan Dynasty (13th and 14th centuries), the Mongolians ruled.
Many artist scholars were exiled. While living in remote areas like
hermits, they expressed their thoughts on their artwork and poetry -
sometimes in subtle ways. Wu Chen's "Fishing on the Autumn
River" used dark ink and many details. Simplicity and white
blank space were sometimes used. Bamboo was popular and has been
painted as old leaves, new leaves, bamboo in the wind, bamboo in the
rain, etc. Flowers, birds, and plum were done in outline and dark
Ming Dynasty (1368 - 1644) saw continued development in art. Artists
entered court or palace life again. Some of the most famous works are
Shen Chou's landscape, "Walking with a Stick", Lin Liang's
"Bamboo and Magpies", and Wang Wen's "Making Tea"
depicting a a bearded man in his robe sitting on a carpet boiling
Ching Dynasty (1644 - 1911) saw a big movement to return to
antiquity. Some artists, loyal to Ming, did not like to be under
Ching (Manchurian) rulership. They went to remote mountains and
became monks and hermits while doing traditional painting. At the
same time, the Ching court readily adopted and promoted the Han
Chinese culture. Several European countries sent missionary-artists
to China. They introduced Western painting styles and learned to do
Chinese paintings. The result was a new form of painting introducing
perspective and light shades.
to this point, around 1800 or so, colored paint was made from natural
substances such as minerals, plants, ground up flower petals, etc. as
well as black ink from grinding on the ink stone. With the
introduction of new paint-making technology, colors were brilliant
and readily available. Paintings were brighter in color. Traditional
paintings, as in landscapes and flowers, were still being done. But
more artists depicted everyday living - people weaving and farming.
Some artists produced portraits. Some artists took on the modern
technique by going outdoors to capture the light and shadows of
plants and flowers. Huei Sho-Ping's "Peonies" avoided using
outlines, forming shapes with color. The Chinese tradition of copying
from the old masters was not done often. The technique of "pour-ink"
was practiced. Painters would splash ink on paper, allowing it to
soak and run. Lines and enhancements were added to the ink splashes
to form images.
painting saw the work of Chang Ta-Chien's landscapes, often
monumental and detailed. Hsu Bei Hung's horses were comprised of bold
and free sweeps of the brush, and Chi Bei Shih's fruit, shrimp, crab,
and still life paintings are very simple, contemporary, and extremely
art history spans thousands of years. The number of artists and the
historical accounts can fill a whole library.
This is just a summary
covering a few slivers in time. As the art form continues to evolve
and grow, it is retaining its uniqueness, simplicity, and beauty. The
appreciation of Chinese brush paintings as well as the creation of
them will bring much pleasure, tranquility, and peace of mind to
Whitefield, Roderick, "In Pursuit of Antiquity", Princeton
University Museum; Ho Lien Kwei, "Chinese Cultural Art
Treasures", National Palace Museum, Taipei; Wong Yu Ting,
"Chinese Painting", Kung Tung Publishing, Taipei