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.
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 stokes.
The 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.
Usually a Chinese painter is at 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.
Chinese paintings are divided into two major categories, free hand brushwork (xieyi) and detailed brushwork (gongbi). The former is characterized by simple and bold strokes intended to represent the exaggerated likenesses of the objects, which the latter by fine brushwork and close attention to detail. Employing different techniques, the two schools try to achieve the same end, the creation of beauty.
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 color with patterns of plants, fabrics, and animals, reflecting various aspects of the life of primitive clan communities. These may be considered the beginning of Chinese painting.
China entered the slave society about 2,000 BC though no paintings of that period have ver 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 (476-221BC) unearthed a painting on silk of human figures, dragons and phoenixes. The earliest work on silk ever discovered in China with its measurement around 30 cm by 20 cm.
From this and other early paintings on silk may it be easily seen that the ancients were already familiar with the art of the writing or painting brush, and the desired strokes were so vigorously and elegantly put and set. Paintings of this period are strongly religious or mythological in theme.
Paintings on paper appeared much later than those on silk since the invention of silk preceded that of paper by a long historical period.
In 1964, when a Jin Dynasty (265-420) tomb was excavated at Astana in Turpan, Xinjiang Uygurous Autonomous Region, a colored painting on paper was discovered. It shows, on top, the sun, the moon and the Big Dipper and, below, the owner of the tomb sitting cross-legged on a couch and leisurely holding a fan in his hand. A portrayal in vivid lines of the life of a feudal landlord, measuring 106.5 cm by 47 cm, it is the only known painting on paper of such antiquity in China.
Three Schools of Chinese painting
One of the three principal branches of Chinese painting, it emerged in China much earlier than landscape painting and flower-and-bird painting. Categorized in this branch of Chinese painting are Taoist and Buddhist painting, painting of beautiful women, portrait paining, genre painting and history painting. Figure painting can also be subdivided into Gongbi (realistic painting characterized by fine brushwork and close attention to detail), Xieyi (freehand brushwork painting characterized by spontaneous expression and bold line), Pomo (painting with broad full strokes and no defined outline) and Baimiao (outline drawing without color, shading or wash) figure painting accordance with the technique employed in painting.
Figure painting gives special importance to likeness in spirit and sees to it that the character of the subject depicted is vividly brought out.
2> Landscape Painting
Landscape painting is one of the three principal branches of Chinese painting. The other two are figure painting and flower-and-bird painting. Landscape painting can be subdivided into painting or mountains and rivers and painting for architectural representation. The later is also called Jiehua or boundary painting, which refers to the accurate depiction of architectural forms with the aid of a ruler. There are several styles of landscape painting. One is known as Qinglu shanshui (blue-and-green landscape). it is characterized by the prominence of blue and green colors. Another is called Shuimo shanshui or ink-and-wash landscape and the third is called Mogu shanshui, which means boneless landscape painting or landscape painting without outline, especially in color.
Chinese landscape painting has a long history. However, it did not become an independent genre of art until the Five Dynasty (907-960). It stresses likeness in both appearance and spirit and reflects not only the beauty of nature but also the aesthetic conception of the Chinese.
3> Flower and Bird Painting
One of the three principal branches of Chinese painting, its subject mater covers plants, insects and animals. It can also be subdivided into Gongbi, Xieyi, Shuimo (ink-and-wash), Pomo, Shese (colored), Baimiao and Mogu paintings.
Flower-and-Bird painting appeared in China as early as the Neolithic Age. It reached maturity and became a separate branch of painting during the Tang and Song dynasties (618-1279)
Although flower-and-bird painting attaches importance to likeness in appearance it does not rigidly adhere to it. The best example of this branch of painting are perhaps those with deeper meanings in them and those in which the painters freely expressed their thought.