Chinese Painting and Traditional Chinese Culture.
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Chinese painting, also known as the traditional national painting, one of the traditional fine paintings with a long history, has its unique and independent system in the world's fine arts field. Using brushes, ink, and Chinese pigments, a painting is drawn on a special kind of paper (Xuan paper) or silk. The traditional subjects are figures, landscapes, flowers and birds. They are divided into two different styles: one is Gongbi, or meticulous painting, the traditional realistic style characterized by fine brushwork and close attention to detail, the other is Xieyi, or impressionist painting, the freehand brushwork style characterized by vivid expression and bold and vigorous outlines. The forms of painting include wall paintings, screens, scrolls, albums, and fan covers. There is also unique mounting and paper hanging skill for paintings.
In comparison with Western painting, Chinese painting has a distinguished national form and artistic characteristics. After a careful study of the object, a painter can discover the rules of its structure, and then produce it by the mind's eye. It is not merely a simple copy, but it combines the object with the artistic concept of the producer, turning a natural image into an "artistic image." The object can become endowed with feelings, and instilled with the artist's essence and personality to achieve the effect of "being alike not only in spirit, but also in appearance." Not all the objects are to be drawn on the paper, and much space is left for the imagination. Chinese painters tend to use "moving perspective" in their works. Modern artists call it a way of "scattering perspective," or "unfixed perspective." With towering mountains, murmuring waters, meandering hillside paths, dense forests, row upon row of houses, and the active people in one painting, a Chinese landscape artist can produce a full and imaginative view of a scene. The painting "Riverside Scene on the Pure Brightness Festival," presents a full scene of activities on and under a bridge, inside and outside a house. This is the "moving perspective," quite different from naturalism. The artist's eye makes use of and controls nature. The use of lines is important in Chinese painting. Clear, swift, sharp and changeable lines are combined with the push, point and press of the brush and ink to show the quality of the object and variations of tone. Ancient Chinese artists listed 18 different ways of drawing lines with the brush in figure painting. Different ways of creating lines are used when painting a landscape, flowers and birds, clouds, bamboos, chrysanthemums, plums and orchids.
Traditional Chinese painting and calligraphy are different branches of art stemming from the same origin. They use the same kind of tools and all the lines used in painting are variations of the points and lines of calligraphy. Though they are different artistic forms, they are closely linked in terms of their expression of thoughts and feelings. They influence each other to create another artistic feature.
The infancy of Chinese painting predated the appearance of written characters. The pre-historical culture and the whole Chinese cultural development had a close relation with it. The techniques used in figure painting had reached maturity during the periods from the later Zhou to the Han, Wei and the Six Dynasties. Landscape and flower-and-bird paintings had become an independent category in the Sui and Tang dynasties. There were many schools of wash and landscape painting artists in the Five Dynasties and the Northern and Southern Song and landscape painting became a major sector. Wenren Hua (scholar painting) appeared in the Tang period and further developed in the Song period. It became booming in the Yuan Dynasty, with a tendency of freehand brushwork style and vivid and bold expression. It further developed during the Ming and Qing dynasties, and the modern time, and a bold and free brushwork was further emphasized. From the period of Wei, Jin, and the Southern and Northern Dynasties, and Tang, Ming and Qing, traditional Chinese painting had been influenced by Buddhist painting art and the Western arts. The development of Chinese painting through the ages constitutes an important part of the history of Chinese culture. Without knowledge of Chinese painting, one cannot have a complete knowledge of the fine traditional Chinese culture. Here we present a few of the artists and their works:
1. Yan Liben's "Emperor Taizong's Sedanchair"
Yan Liben (?-673) was a painter and an official of the early Tang Dynasty. His father and elder brother were highly versed in arts and crafts, architecture and painting. He inherited the skills of his family members and learned from Zhang Sengyou and Zheng Fasi. He was versed in portrait painting and he could express the character and temperament of the object. He was the forefather of portrait painting of the Tang period.
The painting "Emperor Taizong's Sedanchair" is now kept in the Beijing Palace Museum. The painting tells the story of the marriage of Emperor Taizong's daughter Princess Wencheng with the Tubo (Tibet) King Songtsam Gambo in 641. It depicts the scene of the Emperor receiving the envoy sent by the Tubo king to welcome the princess. On the upper part in the center of the painting, there are three characters "Bu Nian Tu" (Emperor's Sedanchair"), a dedication by Zhao Gou, Emperor Gaozong of the Song Dynasty, and a seal. To the right, Emperor Taizong is seated in the sedan, calm and composed with his legs crossed. Two court maidservants, one in front and the other behind, carry the sedan belts on their shoulders and hold the handles of the sedan, walking slowly forward. Four other maidservants are in attendance on each side of the sedan. Another three maidservants walk alongside and behind the sedan, holding fans and red canopies. To the left, a eunuch in white stands behind and a ritual guide official in red walks in front, holding a jade scepter. In the middle, stands the Tubo envoy, refined and courteous, a small cap on head, dressed in a long robe with narrow sleeves. His palms are held together, in a sincere and friendly mood to welcome the princess.
It is possible that Yan Liben attended the meeting ceremony. This picture is a vivid representation of the scene. The status, qualities and bearing of the figures and the relationships between them are all properly expressed. Simple and skillful lines are used to show the folds of their clothes with deep and plain colors. The work might have been first drawn with ink lines and then coated with colors. As a whole, the lines are smooth and flowing, and the colors are harmonious. It is an outstanding figure painting with fine brushwork and elaborates details.
2. Wu Daozi's "Birth of Sakyarnuni"
Wu Daozi (c. 685-758) was a Tang Dynasty painter. He first studied calligraphy, but lack of success made him turn to painting. He showed his gift in this field when he was barely 20. Later he was summoned to the imperial court of Tang where he was conferred the title “Erudite of the Palace." He was skilled in painting Taoist and Buddhist figures, as well as birds, animals and landscapes. He painted murals, each very different from the others, covering well over 300 bays in all in temples and monasteries in Chang'an and Luoyang. His paintings were always done at one stroke without rules and instruments. In his pictures, the folds of clothes were drawn smoothly and roundly, as if flowing in the wind. Wu Daozi is regarded as "the Saint of Paintings."
"The Birth of Sakyamuni," also known as "The Picture of the Son-bestowing King of Heaven," is drawn on paper without color. It was not signed by the artist. It is now kept in Osaka Museum in Japan.
In the picture, the newborn Sakyamuni is carried by his father Suddhodana to worship the heavenly God. There are two parts in the picture. The first shows that the King of Heaven summons the Son-bestowing God and the god together with his auspicious beast are on the way, and that the king is on the back of his own beast, composed and excited. And the attendants lead the beast to run on. The second part shows Suddhodana with the new-born baby in his arms, walking slowly toward the temple, while the gods of the temple kneel down to pay respect to him. From the images and actions of the figures, we can See that this is no ordinary child. The picture is full of figures and gods and monsters, all vividly portrayed. Its lines are vigorous with a sense of precise and lively rhythm. With their flowing sleeves and stripes, the figures are all animated.
3. Wang Wei's "Picture of Wangchuan"
Wang Wei (701-761) was a painter, poet and official of the Tang Dynasty. In his old age he led a life partly in the office and partly in his reclusive home in Wangchuan in present Shaanxi Province. His 400 poems have been handed down to the present time. He was highly skilled in ink and wash landscape painting. There is painting in his poems and poetry in his paintings, as con noisseurs say. He was the founder of the school of scholar paintings and wrote a book titled The Formula of Landscape Painting. He believed that ink painting is the best choice for a painter to show natural beauty and achieve wonders. He injected more water into black ink to express the beauty of landscapes, replacing the conventional use of green and heavy colors and contour of lines.
The "Picture of Wangchuan" is one of his famous works. It was painted on the wall of the Qingyuan Temple. This is a sketch painting of the landscape of the place, expressing the feelings of his peaceful and reclusive life. The style of the picture is unique with its unexpected motif and bizarre and vigorous brushwork.
4. Zhang Zeduan's "Riverside Scene on the Pure Brightness Festival"
Zhang Zeduan was a Northern Song Dynasty painter. The dates of his birth and death are unknown. During his early years, he studied in Bianjing (now Kaifeng in Henan Province), only later learning to paint. During the period of the reign of Emperor Huizong of the Song Dynasty (1100-1125), he worked at the Imperial Painting Academy, skillful in Jiehua painting (a technique of drawing lines with the aid of a ruler in painting palatial buildings). He liked to paint cities, palaces and other constructions, particularly ships, vehicles, marketplaces, streets, and bridges. His typical works include "Riverside Scene on the Pure Brightness Festival," a long scroll 24.5 cm in length. It is now stored in the Palace Museum in Beijing. The picture presents a scene of some of the streets of Bianjing, the capital city of Song, and a corner of its outskirts along the Bianhe River, during the Pure Brightness Festival in the 12th century. There are more than 500 people from all walks of life in the painting, and about 60 horses, donkeys, oxen, pigs, mules, and camels. There are also more than 20 carts and sedan chairs, over 20 ships and boats, and 30-odd pavilions, halls, cottages, and shops.
In the picture, all sorts of people are vividly shown, including shoppers, pedlers, wine drinkers, fortune-tellers, barbers, stow-tellers, acrobats, people riding donkeys or in sedan chairs, buying medici nal herbs, chatting, dozing, pushing carts, visiting homes, or paying respect to tombs. The scene stretches away from the outskirts to the seething marketplace. Ponds, streams, small bridges, cottages, ancient willows and woods are shown in peace and tranquility. Market goers with their loads on horse-drawn carts are trudging toward the streets. The Bianhe River runs through the city, with some ships moored at the river bank, and others sailing in the torrent. Further on is a ship with its mast lowered, preparing to passunder an arch-bridge. People standing on the bridge are leaning over the railings and cheering the boatmen on. A boatman standing on the roofing of the ship pilots the passing of the ship and two others under the roofing stretch their arms shouting. On the other side of the bridge is the downtown area, where shops, restaurants and officials' residences line both sides of the bustling streets.
Using scattered perspective, the artist presents a typical scene of Northern Song society. As historical material, it provides substantial images and pictures of the agriculture, handicraft trade, transportation, commerce, construction, daily life and cultural activities of the time. As a work of art, this wonderful and distinguished piece is the highest achievement of the Chinese genre painting with its spectacular design, rich content, and masterful technique.
5. Ma Yuan's "Four Farmers Singing Their Way Home"
Ma Yuan was a painter of the Southern Song Dynasty (1127-1279). The dates of his birth and death are unknown. He learned to paint from his grandfather and father. He was editorial assistant in the Painting Academy during the period of the reigns of Emperors Guangzong and Ningzong (1190-1224). He was skilled in painting landscapes, applying the ink with sweeping brushwork to form rocks and mountains. He was known in later years as one of the four master painters of the Southern Song, together with Xia Gui, Li Tang, and Liu Songnian.
The "Four Farmers Singing Their Way Home," painted at a time when the Song Dynasty was fighting its northern enemy, the Jin, reflects the healthy spirit and mood of farmers in a picturesque mountainous landscape. Four drunken, singing farmers are walking across a small bridge amid the field paths. The old man in front, holding a stick, turns his head over his shoulder and sings in an antiphonal style with the three others singing behind. The last of these, carrying a wine gourd, is extremely drunk. They beat time with their feet while they sing. Two children hiding behind a large rock peeping at them have burst into laughter. Not far away, there is a rock shaded by bamboo and willows. In the distance, the towering mountain peaks, with palaces and temples half hidden among them, cut into the sky. On the horizon is a rosy cloud. It gives a feeling of refreshing and joy. As well as the artist's signature, there is also a poem dedicated to the painting by Emperor Ningzong.
The painting is typical of Ma Yuan's landscape paintings. His brushwork technique was a new breakthrough. He seized an aspect of the natural scene from the most favorable angle and took a corner of the object as his close-up, making it natural and compact. Hence he was known as "Ma's corner." A good deal of space is left in the upper part of the painting for a broad and open sky and a clear distinction is made between close, middle and distant objects.
The joyful farmers are the descriptive theme, adding gay colors to a landscape painting and imbuing the natural scene with a human touch. The figures were drawn with a reducible brushwork, and the lines are vigorous, simple and clear. Various types of trees are being blown in the direction of the wind. He was skillful in drawing weeping willows and down-stretching twigs, hence his method is known as "Ma Yuan's dragging skills." His mountains and rocks are primitive and magnificent, while distant mountains are usually painted with light brushwork, amidst the mist of clouds.
The painting, done on silk, is now in the collection of the Palace Museum in Beijing.
6. Huang Gongwang's "Houses in the Fuchun Mountains"
Huang Gongwang (1269-1354) was a painter of the Yuan Dynasty, becoming a low-ranking official in middle age. He was in volved in a case and sent into prison. After he was set free, he withdrew to a reclusive place and no longer served in the government. He became a devout believer of the Quanzhen (Complete Truth) Sect of Taoism and traveled around the country. At the age of about 50, he began to produce landscape paintings and in his later years he established his own style of painting. Most of his sketches were made while touring South China. In his ink and wash paintings, he employed the cursive and seal styles of calligraphy in his brushwork using a few strokes to give a feeling of remoteness and vastness. His paintings were described as "simple and vigorous mountain peaks and exuberant vegetation." He liked to use light red-brown, and invented his reddish landscape painting.
Of the "Four Masters of the Yuan Dynasty" (the three others being Wu Zhen, Ni Zan, and Wang Meng) Huang Gongwang was considered the finest. He had a great influence on the landscape paintings of the Ming and Qing dynasties.
"Houses in the Fuchun Mountains" was his favorite work. At 79, he lived in the Fuchun Mountains to make this painting, which was completed in almost four years. Many painters of the Ming and Qing learned from this painting. It was passed down to Wu Hongyu in 1650 in the early Qing period. Wu cherished and valued it so much that he wanted to take it with him when he was about to die, and tried to burn it. The painting was snatched out of the fire by his nephew Wu Zhendu, but the painting was torn into two parts. One part was damaged and is now kept in the Zhejiang Provincial Museum. The second part is in the Palace Museum in Beijing.
The painting shows the landscape on both banks of the Fuchun River. Its composition uses "level, broad and high distant" perspective, making it replete with changeable scenes: waves upon waves of mountains, waterways and shallows, as well as landscape beyond distant mountains. The earth quality of the mountains, mainly covered with pine trees, is also shown. The slopes, pavilions, cottages, ships and bridges, and fishermen's homes are all vividly presented in the cool air of early autumn. Mountains and rocks are painted with the mid-part of the brush with light and half-dried ink to create their shaded and sunny sides. The woods are painted with horizontal points of brushwork.
7. Xu Wei's "Ink Grapes"
Xu Wei (1521-1593) was a writer, painter and calligrapher of the Ming Dynasty. In his childhood he proved himself to be very smart and at the age of 20 he passed the imperial examination at the county level. However, he failed in the later provincial examinations eight times, the last time when he was 41. He served as the private office assistant of Hu Zongxian, the viceroy of Zhejiang and Fujian provinces and joined the struggle against sea invaders in the southeastern coastal area. Later, Hu was dismissed, jailed and committed suicide. Xu Wei himself suffered from a mental disorder for some time and killed his wife. For this, he was imprisoned for seven years. During the remaining years of his life, he supported himself by selling his calligraphic works and paintings.
He produced a great number of literary works and traditional operas, including the Collected Works of Xu Wenzhang. In middle age, he began to learn painting. He pioneered a new path for the freehand ink and wash painting of the Ming and Qing periods. Zheng Banqiao (1693-1765), a writer, calligrapher and painter of the Qing period, cherished a profound esteem for him, calling himself "Green Vine's Running Dog," because Xu was named the Green Vine Taoist during his remaining years. Qi Baishi, famous modern painter, expressed regret that he had not been born three hundred years earlier to serve Xu as his studio assistant. His famous works include "Ink Grapes," "Lily Lotus and Crabs," "Chinese Parasol and Banana Trees," and "Peony, Banana and Rock."
"Ink Grapes" is now kept in the Palace Museum in Beijing. A bunch of grapes hangs from the upper right of the picture. The grapes and vines are produced by point and freehand brushwork with watery ink. The vivid grapes appear to dance in the wind. In representing an object, it is more important to grasp its spirit, or essence, rather than to copy its shape precisely. The grapes are a self-expression of the artist. The dedicated poem, which shows his mood of sorrows and dissatisfaction caused by frustration and depression, can be paraphrased as follows:
Being frustrated in the first half of my life,
Now I have become an old man.
Standing lonely in my studio, I cry loudly in the evening wind,
There's nowhere to sell the bright pearls from my brush,
I have to cast them, now and then, into the wild vine.
Xu Wei's ink and wash brushwork is unique. In this particular work, he used water to naturally dilute the thickly ink-colored grapes to voice his mind.
8. Zhu Da's "Lotus and Two Birds"
Zhu Da (c. 1626-c.1705) was a painter of the early Qing period, a descendent of the 16th son of Zhu Yuanzhang, the founding Emperor of the Ming Dynasty. He was 19 years old when the Ming Dynasty was overthrown. Suffering the humiliation and agony of losing his country and home, he pretended to be a fool and lived as a recluse in the mountains. At the age of 23, he became a Buddhist monk, and then a Taoist. When he was about 60, he returned to the secular world. Zhu Da usually signed paintings and calligraphy as "Bada Shanren" (Eight-Mountain Hermit). He firmly opposed the high-handed ethnic policy adopted by the Qing government and often vented his discontent through his poems, writings, calligraphy and paintings. For instance, he often gave the eyes of his fish and birds an expression of hatred and resentment, symbolizing his own defiance of the Qing government.
Zhu Da's brushwork is simple and condensed, his images exaggerated. His landscape paintings, usually full of strange rocks and desolate hills, show a cold and voiceless world. His ink and wash technique produced a great impact on later freehand painting. In 1983, the People's Fine Arts Publishing House published a "Collection of the Calligraphy and Paintings of Bada Shanren".
"Lotus and Two Birds," now stored in the Palace Museum in Beijing, is one of his best pieces. In the painting, two stems of lotus wind upwards, fragmented and broken up, showing the high ideals but uneven course of the artist's life. The rock, larger at the top than at the bottom, is deformed and strange, challenging the world with a determined and defiant will. Two birds on the rock look at each other with the white of their eyes. Except for two seals, the whole painting is without color. The ease and verve of the brushwork shows that it was painted at one sitting, venting the producer's discontent. One might almost say that it is a self-Portrait.
9. Yuan Ji's "The Resonant Waterfall"
Yuan Ji (1642-c.1718) was a painter of the early Qing period. Originally, his name was Zhu Ruoji. After the fall of the Ming Dynasty, when he was five years old, his father was captured and killed. To escape from disaster, he became a Buddhist monk and took the name Yuan ji. In his remaining years of life, he settled in Yangzhou, supporting himself by selling paintings.
He painted flowers, fruits and figures, and was particularly versed in landscape paintings, enjoying a very high reputation at the time. He learned well from his predecessors and he was also a very good observer of natural things. He held that "artists should be in rune with the time," and that a landscape painter should "originate in mountains and rivers," "search out and sketch all the strange peaks" and then "make his own rules." By doing this, an artist might succeed in breaking away from those before him and come to create his own style.
He tried to create his unique works with variable compositions. His brushwork is free at will and the design is vast and novel, differing greatly from the conventional practice of the time to mimic the style of the ancients. The Yangzhou school and modern Chinese painters have been greatly influenced by his works. He made a profound study of painting theory and wrote a book titled Quotations from Balsam Pear Monk's Paintings (Yuan Ji was also named Balsam Pear Monk).
Because his paintings have been held in such high esteem, there are many fakes on the market. Most, however, are so badly produced that they can easily be distinguished. Zhang Daqian, a famous modern artist who had studied the works of Yuan Ji, can produce works almost as good as the originals. But Zhang's brushwork is not as heavy as Yuan's and his lines are smoother. When carefully examined, they too can be distinguished from Yuan's original works. "The Resonant Waterfall," a wash painting done on paper, is now kept in the Shanghai Museum. This painting best demonstrates the spectacular spirit of the artist, with its novel and unique composition and bizarre-shaped pines between rocks randomly scattered on the mountain, like flying dragons. A waterfall pours directly down through dense bamboo and the wooden pavilion, out of the deep mountain step by step. The resounding waterfall, the din of the forest, and the soughing of the pines in the wind, combine into an orchestral performance. Two scholars sitting in the pavilion listen to the grand and beautiful music and smile to each other in silence. Behind the front peak of the mountain, a dim forest can be seen. Above in the sky, dark heavy clouds threaten a sudden storm.
The brushwork in the painting is energetic and sharp but steady with free and bold use of ink. Mountains and rocks are lightly outlined and rubbed with heavy ink and a dry brush. The mosses in heavy ink and elaborately painted clumps of grass heighten the atmosphere of the impending storm. The use of ink is varied, creating many levels of colors. It can be regarded as a typical use of ink as the use of colors. Long lines are used for the contours of mountains, like fully strained bows to frame up the mountain bodies. In the lower part of the painting, slant lines denote the sweeping traces, which give the hint leading to the top of the mountain.
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