Ink on silk paintings are a quintessential  aspect of Chinese art. Just in this exhibit, we can view a  painting from the Ming dynasty in 1589 which uses ink on silk as well as a painting from the Qing dynasty in 1926 which also uses ink on silk almost four centuries later.

Typically painted on scrolls, Chinese paintings were usually rolled up and stored away when not in use. Paintings were designed to be appreciated for a brief time and then put away until the next viewing. This practice helped to preserve many of these pieces, some of which are hundreds of years old. Compared to western style oil paintings, ink on silk paintings are far more susceptible to aging. As you may notice as you walk through the exhibit, some of the scrolls are darker than others. Ink on silk paintings will often darken with age. This is why the older painting from the Ming Dynasty appears much darker than the other more recent paintings.

The Flowers and Taihu Rock painting attributed to Zhou Zhimian is the oldest piece in this exhibit. Painted during the Ming Dynasty, a time period of great affluence and a large scholarly class, this bird and flower painting was likely hung in a scholar’s studio as a sign of good fortune and to promote calmness of mind. In traditional Chinese culture, both the bird and the chrysanthemums seen in this painting connote good fortune and a life of ease in retirement. This rock formation in particular came from Lake Tai, famous for it’s unique, porous stones, many of which were seen in the gardens of the elite. The figuration on the blue silk is typical of a Japanese mounting. This suggests that this painting was at some point bought by a Japanese collector and remounted in Japan.

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Another painting from the Ming Dynasty is a landscape in the blue green style attributed to Shao Mi. It is also a hanging scroll painted with ink and color on silk. In this painting, Shao Mi depicts a man’s journey from the base of a mountain, across a lake, and up the mountain. This landscape adheres to the concepts of traditional scholar paintings in which the viewer visualizes himself as the figure near the bottom of the painting traveling up the mountain. Common among the social elite, who were often confined in urban cities, these paintings served as a respite from reality by allowing the viewer to go on a mental and spiritual journey in an idyllic natural environment.

The next piece is from the Republic Period in China, around 1926. This landscape in the style of Dong Qichang is painted by Qi Gong using ink and color on silk. Qi Gong was a renowned Chinese calligrapher, painter, art connoisseur, and Sinologist. In his inscription on the scroll, Qi Gong states that he is imitating Dong Qichang, an influential Chinese painter, calligrapher, art theorist, and art connoisseur from late Ming period. Dong Qichang’s art theory emphasized that artists need to creatively transform the style of the past masters. His theory was widely followed by Qing dynasty artists. In the twentieth century, Dong Qichang became a past master himself, and Qi Gong creatively imitated his style in this painting, and thereby partook in his tradition of evoking the past.

Landscape Painting in the style of Dong Qichang

The object is a landscape painting on a hanging scroll made in 1926, signed and dated by Qigong, a renowned Chinese calligrapher, painter, art connoisseur, and Sinologist. Qigong learned paintings and calligraphy in his childhood, and went on to teach Chinese language and literature at Beijing Normal University for more than 60 years. He chaired the Chinese Calligraphers’ Association and the Central Research Institute of Chinese history, and was involved with many other cultural institutions. He passed away in 2005. Qigong made this painting at age 14 as a birthday gift to an uncle. The painting is made in ink and color on silk and depicts landscape from a distant, level view. Overall, the scale is naturalistic since the diminution of the size of trees from the foreground to the background is true to life. The painting is in the style of Dong Qichang, who was a renowned painter, calligrapher, art theorist, and art connoisseur from late Ming Dynasty.

Hanging Scroll - Still Life

Still Life – an ink and light color painting on a paper scroll – most likely dates from the 19th and 20th century. It was during this time that schools such as the Shanghai School of Painting actively reflected on past styles of Chinese art. The result was the modern institutionalization of an art movement that emerged in the Song Dynasty (960 – 1280 CE): the literati style, which sought to create a depiction of reality through personal expression. This art form is greatly individualized, emphasizes the role of the distinct artist, and the overall style and brushwork of the piece greatly refers to that of calligraphy. Each item within Still Life has been carefully chosen and therefore mirrors the symbolism found in literati painting. This particular vase greatly resembles the pale, pastel celadon glazed Song Dynasty vessels that have become famous within Chinese pottery. The simplicity of the design allowed for appreciation of the shape of the vessel itself. The lotus flower and leaves, which sprout from the vessel, are traditional subject matters within Chinese artwork, representing harmony, calm, and beauty within a muddy, dirty world.

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