Chinese Painting EssentialsThe following notes comment on the basic features of Classical Chinese Paintings. Although they are not exhaustive, we hope that they help you in better understanding Chinese painting and in joining the experts to talk about Chinese art.
Silk over the centuries was the most important medium in Chinese painting. Invented by Chinese farmers as early as 2,500 B.C., silk was not produced outside of China until well into the first millennium A.D. Made from threads processed from the one-half mile long strands unraveled from the cocoons of silkworms, silk fabric was treated in a variety of ways prior to being used as a ground for painting. Different painters preferred different types of silk, ranging from raw, hard silk to soft silk and edged silk.
Paper was also a popular medium for Chinese painting. At first it was used because it was a more economical and flexible alternative to silk, but by the Yuan dynasty it became the most fashionable medium for literati painting.
A Pointed Brush made from animal hair was the primary tool in conventional Chinese painting. The finest brushes, having a straight tip and no loose bristles, have always been made from wolf hair or goat hair. The former is used for defining the outline of the image, which remains the most fundamental act of Chinese painting practice. Goat-hair brushes are the preferred means for adding color wash within the dominant line.
Ink made from pine resin or tung oil was processed into bars or cakes, which the artist ground together with water for use in painting. Since the Qing dynasty, Qianlong and other high-quality inks have been especially valued because they contain quantities of gold and suffer very little oxidation over the centuries. Different inks were used to create particular visual effects, such as articulating human hair. Colored pigments were derived from a range of mineral and vegetable sources, including cinnabar (red), ochre or iron oxide, cyanine (blue), malachite (green), and azurite (blue).
Seals were used, beginning in the Tang dynasty, to mark ownership or authorship of paintings. As paintings were passed down over the centuries, new owners added their own seals. By tracking the history of seals, the authenticity of the painting can be established.
Three Basic Reasons for Mounting Chinese Paintings in a Scroll Format
1.Aesthetic Value. The mounting style is critical to the physical charm of the painting. The presentation of the painting reflects not only the skill and knowledge of the mounting specialist and the inspiration of the artist, but also the particular taste of the owner of the painting. Each painting is mounted in accord with the style associated with the original work and its historical context. An inappropriate mounting style will damage the credibility of the work and throw into question the judgment of both artist and patron.
2. Conservation and Safety. High-quality mounting prevents the painting from being damaged by improper handling or display. Silk and paper are easily torn, broken, cracked, or damaged. Outside of China it is very costly to repair damaged paintings and their mountings.
3. Economic Considerations. Although not without cost, having your painting mounted will preserve the quality and increase the value of your painting many times over. Most of our paintings are mounted in China, but we do offer the possibility of having them custom-mounted in Hong Kong or Taiwan. If you are interested in a painting but want a different mounting style, you can discuss your options with our Chinese painting specialists by Contact Us. We assure you that we will find the best presentation solution for your painting, perhaps by having the painting reshaped or by converting the painting into a frame presentation format.
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