Chinese Painting Essay Example

The Influence Chinese Landscape Painting through Centuries

Abstract: Since the Chinese paintings first made contact with the world, the landscape paintings have been identified as a source of inspiration given their unique impressionistic attributes. Towards the beginning of landscape painting, the natural sceneries only served as the background. Landscape has often been related to religious belief systems and animistic (Thorp and Bower1982). Analysis of most Chinese landscape paintings reflected human vision, thoughts and emotions. This essay examines the basic background of Chinese landscape paintings, their basic visual structure, what inspired them, there relevance and art market, as well as basic principles such as medium used, the color, tone and the brushes used (Hearn 2008).

Keywords: Chinese paintings, Chinese landscape paintings, Chinese ancient arts, ancient Chinese painting, landscape painting.

The Influence Chinese Landscape Painting through Centuries

General Overview

Landscape painting is the representation of sceneries in their natural settings such as rivers, valleys, mountains or forests, specifically where the major topic is a wide vista with different elements organized in a logical composition. This form of art has been a mankind’s quest since civilization. Often, the natural sceneries have their own composition of elements such as mountains, sky, terrains or animals. Most of the modern-day landscape paintings have been influenced by two major traditions namely, Chinese painting and Western painting. For the purpose of this essay, special emphasis is placed on Chinese landscapes given their long history and expressionist quality (Hearn 2008).

Chinese landscape paintings, due to the fact that they span centuries and are closely interlinked with Chinese cultures, have however been discriminatory and not comprehensive. Among Chinese paintings, landscape paintings are the predominant category and the longest historically, going as far as during the Tang Dynasty (618-907). Indeed, it has been and still is highly regarded as a premier Chinese work of art (Kuo 2004). The classical styles of Chinese landscape represented scenes and techniques distinguishable by the regions where the painters hailed from. Chinese painters from the north such as Guo Xi, Li Cheng, Fan Kuan and Jing Hao are reputed for pioneering different forms of landscape paintings of lofty mountains and hills using ink wash, dotted brushstrokes and dark lines to depict rough stone. Those from the south such as Juran and Dong Yuan were renowned for painting meandering rivers and undulating hills depicting peaceful sceneries sung soft brushes. These represented the two major techniques essential for expressing sceneries in their natural settings handed down from the ancient masters. The painting therefore had a long tradition where the practicing painters copied from their masters, not the picture per se, by attempting to recapture the life-energy (Barme 1996).

Indeed, landscape painting has become to be known as the ‘greatest Chinese contribution to the world’s forms of art.’ The paintings owe their unique attributes to the Taoist traditions of the China’s cultures (Kuo 2004).


The Ancient Chinese painters painted works of art that had stunning flexibility and toughness capable of overcoming wear, tear and irrelevance movements over time. Their major characteristics is that the Chinese paintings are done with writing brush that has been dunked in ink and drawn on silk or Xuan paper , there by unlike the Western paintings, it has developed an exceptional style with own uniqueness (Kuo 2004).

Concerning the picture composition, the paintings is not limited to focus perspective, in fact it consists of moving point perspective that works to broaden the visual field as well as advance through the constraint of space and time. For example, the famous Mount Lu landscape that was painted by Jing Hao had a wash painting of the panorama with varied objects, such as towering hills and mountains, houses arranged skillful in a scene (Hartman 1993).

The Chinese landscape painting is a combination of calligraphy, poetry, seal and painting. In the appreciation of Chinese landscape painting, all the above elements will be considered. Indeed, in ancient China, it was unusual for the painters to write their names or anything on the paintings and when this was done, it would be the name of the painter in short characters (Thorp and Bower1982).

With this regard, the Chinese landscape paintings and Western painting can be distinguished by the fact that Western painters greatly consider inclusion of objective things. On the other hand, Chinese landscape painters highly regarded the internal spirit of objects and expressing their feelings in the paintings. For instance, on examination of their visual structures, several things can be noticed including the use of negative space that brings in the spiritual and visual significance from the traditional philosophies, such as Chan Buddhist and Taoist as well as their expertise in the practice of meditation while rehearsing to paint.

The Chinese painters’ skills of depicting distance and depth in three perpendicular planes is completely different from the Western style of linear perspective. The three vertical planes, can be viewed as three pictures that hang in front of each other, including the foreground, which normally comprises objects that are bound on earth such as forests, animals, man and buildings, the middle-ground, which consists of emptiness in the form of water, mist or clouds, and lastly the background plane, which consists of high elements such as the sky, mountains and hills. Unlike the Western landscape paintings therefore, the Chinese painters rarely used perspective as seen with the representational arts, rather, they illustrated depth using three planes, where the emptiness or the negative space plays a significant compositional role (Kuo 2004).

The Chinese formats are hanging scroll, album, handscroll and fan. The scroll formats have been greatly perfected to guarantee resistance to moisture, insects or light when the paintings are stored. The painting is embedded to a paper, which are usually many layers thick. The handscroll format depicts a unique representation where the observer can control the length of viewing. This is unique from the Western formats where the paintings are framed and later hung on the wall, thus showing a distinct separation between the object and the observer. However, the album is technically composed of a various leaves stuck together so that the viewer scrolls through the paintings like can de dome with a photo album. Paintings could further be remounted every so often, such as after a hundred years depending on the condition of the frames.

Indeed, the Chinese paintings have so often been associated with hand-scrolls and hanging scrolls. Wall paintings were also common temples, tombs and buildings. Among the pioneers of landscape paintings on the walls in the 5th century was Zong Bing (Kuo 2004).

With time, bigger formats evolved into smaller formats attributed to the culture of making smaller paintings to be given as gifts.

Principle Theme

In ancient’s China’s aesthetic theory of art, the principle theme was emptiness, where the artist, after calming the mind, enable it to become quite and empty of emotions and thoughts. The Chinese painters believed that with quite inspiration flew and a sense of touch with sceneries in the world. With these under perspective, the painter would use a calm hand and reactive brushstrokes. Some theorists described the practice as an act of combined authenticity and spontaneity.

The physical practice of working the paintings with an empty mind manifested itself in the painting, basically through the use and significance of Negative Space. This style is a real contrast with the Western painting, where the painters, unlike in Ancient China who used Emptiness and Negative Space, just painted or photographed the sceneries.

With the Empty and Negative Space, the painter would select a style of using brushstrokes or assume a calmer style of using strokes which are flowing. Several variations can be created using the brush. Sometimes, the painters would use modulated lines to show contours or interior details.

The principles themes were skills that were developed through learning from the masters over time. In ancient China, learning painting skills was a significant part of cultural education and groundwork for professional vocation. Practiced painters would often study be tutored by a master at a local school. On occasions that they were not painting, they were preoccupied on observing to gain mastery in the skill of observation. Further, they would be preoccupied in thinking and reading to develop the ability of their mental grasping ability. Typically, in the Chinese landscape painting, before a painter grasps a brush, he has to calm his nerves, spirit and thoughts. This way, the image can form before their eyes.

The Chinese paintings symbolize and unify nature, human spirit and the universe. Indeed they created while the artists are aware of the powers of silence, reflection and awareness.

Medium Used

The two major medium used in making Chinese paintings included silk and paper. Paper was developed through a process that enabled natural plant fibers that were parched on meshed nets to dry out. The paper was made from natural fibres such as hemp, bamboo and mulberry. For landscape paintings, the best paper included that made out of mulberry as it was pure, had the recommended tensile strength, it had uniform color and was durable.

Silk was also used for painting, thus enabling widespread sericulture, the practice of rearing silkworms for making of silk. In using the silk as medium, unlike the paper that could be worked on directly using brush and ink, this kind of medium had to be resized. The process used powdered alum that could be worked into the silk to form a uniform surface that would hold the ink without getting absorbed into the medium.

Ink Used The Chinese painters used pine soot, which was bound using glues and afterwards compacted to form ink cakes or sticks, as the ink for painting landscapes. The stick would then be ground on an ink stone, which was made up of a somewhat smooth permeable stone. The stone was designed to have a well and a grinding area that was used to add water and let the ink to pool. The painter would afterward dip the brush in the ink before applying the ink to a surface, such as silk or paper (
Hartman 1993).


Only the brush, water and black India ink were used in the creation of Chinese landscape painting. The expressions used in referring to the range of brushstrokes or diluted ink included dark to light and wet to dry. The skill of creating paintings of exclusively speckled white and black tonal quality was likened to the white and black photographs or the finest charcoal drawings (Hartman 1993). The objective of the painter is to not only capture the external appearance of an object but the inner qualities, such as spirit, life energy and life force. This is ensured by overlooking the use of color rather the hues of black and white would be used interchangeably while color would be regarded as distraction. The variable attributes of shadow and light would also be disregarded as ways of modeling instead, the artist would rely on the indelible etch of an inked brush (Chow 1970).

Colors used in Chinese Painting

The Chinese painters used colors that were mainly comprised mineral pigments, such as azurite (for blue colors), Malachite (for green color) and Cinnabar (for red color) that had been ground for form fine powder before being suspended in a wet medium to enable the colored paint. The colors never fade although they can be grazed off so that they would appear as fading. However, since the mineral pigments used contained ground stone, they never really fade. This attribute explains why most of the centuries old Chinese landscape paintings still maintain their vibrant colors.

Brushes Used

Typically, the Chinese painters used brushes in painting the landscapes. The paintings had long handles made out of bamboo or wood, although some fancy brush handles were made out of jade, lacquer or ceramic. Also, animal hairs were used, where the tips were either short or longs, thin or thick. The brushes are essentially in use in the contemporary Chinese landscape painting (Hartman 1993).

Contemporary art market

Currently, the market for Chinese landscape paintings, both for the contemporary and antique arts, is reported to be the fastest growing the world over. Chinese landscape paintings attract high sales from the biggest actions of fine arts, such as Christie’s and Sotheby’s. In 2007, it was reported that five out of the top ten best selling living artists Chinese, with some selling for as much as $56.8 million at an auction (Vogel 2003). With regard to the buying-market, United Kingdom, United States and China are the biggest buyers of the Chinese arts. China overtook France towards over towards the end of the 2000s becoming the world’s third largest art market. United Kingdom and the United States are first and second. In 2011, China became the second largest market after the United States (Barboza 2007).


In conclusion, Chinese landscape painting is thus the world’s longest and most enduring art genre. The pictures of nature in their typical settings have remained a powerful source of inspiration to the artists (Barme 996). Even as the Chinese landscape painting has been changed through centuries of human occupation, it has deeply been embedded with images of nature. Through analysis of the Chinese landscape, it can be noted that representation of the nature is not merely a depiction of the external world but of internal emotions or feelings, or expressions of the mind of an individual painter. Further, they are influenced by the culture and nurturing of the masters.


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Hartman, C. 1993. «Literary and Visual Interactions in Lo Chih-ch’uan’s Crows in Old Trees.» Metropolitan Museum Journal, Vol. 28

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