Zhongguo hua, when you say this term, sometimes you will make listeners confused whether you are referring to Chinese painting 中国画 or Chinese speaking 中国话, because both pronounce the same. Today we tells you how Chinese painting speaks.
Though Chinese painting has much in common with western painting from an aesthetic point of view, it still possesses its unique character. Chinese traditional painting seldom follows the convention of central focus perspective or realistic portrayal, but gives the painter freedom on artistic conception, structural composition and method of expression so as to better express his subjective feelings. Chinese painting has absorbed the best of many forms of art, like poetry, calligraphy, and seal engraving.
Take Mr. Qi Baishi 齐白石(1863-1957), a great painter for example. Mr. Qi was a skillful poet, calligrapher and seal-cutter. Qi, a native of Hunan Province, injected his ink painting with typical Chinese farmers’ tastes — simple, pure, and humorous. All this made him an artistic giant of the 20th Century.
Chinese often consider a good painting a good poem, and vice versa. Hence we often say there is painting in poetry and poetry in painting. In the past, many great artists were also great poets and the calligraphers. The inscriptions and seal on the paintings not only can help us to understand the painter’s ideas and emotions, but also provide decorative beauty to the painting.
Pines, bamboo and plum blossoms are ‘bosom friends in winter.’ The three plants are upright and show rectitude. They become favorite objects for Chinese painters. Chinese painting is a combination in the same picture of the arts of poetry, calligraphy, painting and seal engraving. They were indispensable elements, which supplement and enrich each other in contributing to the beauty of the whole picture.
Chinese paintings can be divided into four categories according to its format: murals, screens, scrolls, and albums and fans. In addition, they are frequently mounted against exquisite backgrounds to enhance their aesthetic effect.
In terms of technique, Chinese painting can be divided into two broad categories: paintings minutely executed in a realistic style and those that employ freehand brushwork.
Classified according to subject matter, they can be divided into paintings of figures, landscapes, buildings, flowers, birds, animals, insects and fish. In Chinese painting, the flowering plum, orchid, chrysanthemum and the bamboo embody modesty, loyalty, purity and integrity. Collectively, they are known as “the four gentlemen” (四君子 si junzi) and are often the subject a beginner first learns. And the painter can exploit the brush and ink’s potential for his/her free expression.
–Plum Blossom 梅花(mei hua)
The hardy winter flower and the first to come into bloom, year after year, symbolising constancy in love. The contortions of the wild plum resemble a fierce dragon and when it is cultivated, the Chinese often prune it to accentuate this image.
–Orchid 兰花(lan hua)
The fragrant wild orchid that grows beside water deep in the woodland is the epitome of femininity and serene beauty in the shadows of obscurity. It was seen as the scholar’s sweetheart, the curving spikes of flowers symbolising a modest maiden washing her hair.
–Chrysanthemum 菊花 (ju hua)
The emblem of China that goes on flowering in a blaze of colour long after summer flowers have faded, defying the onset of winter. Its strong bright blooms are seen as a triumph of hope over adversity.
–Bamboo 竹 (zhu)
Sturdy, upright and vigorous, but with humility. The Chinese symbol often used to represent the joints of the bamboo also means living a virtuous life, and its hollow stems are a reminder that there is always room to acquire more knowledge.
The ink painting (水墨画 sui-mo hua) has conducted certain reforms earlier this century, which may fall into two types. One reform was to get rid of the morbid psychology of self-admiration that some scholar painters in feudal China harbored, and establishes a healthy style. In this respect, 齐白石 Qi Baishi, whose name we mentioned previously, stood high above his contemporaries.
Qi’s favorite subjects included flowers, insects, birds, landscapes and human figures. He not only studied the skills of these forerunners such as Xu Wei, Zhu Da, Yuan Ji and Wu Changshuo but also carefully observed the objects that he sketched. Outwardly he seemed to be very casual, but the flowers and birds that blossomed and flew from his brush all possessed the kind of characteristics they should have. With fluent lines and bright colors, he created a world full of life and rhythm.
The second type of reform was to accept Western art concepts and techniques and combine them with good tradition of Chinese painting. The pioneers tried to create a brand new national painting form on the basis of the existing form. One of the representatives in this bold experiment was 徐悲鸿 Xu Beihong (1895-1953), who served in his lifetime as president of the Central Fine Arts Institute and chairman of the Chinese Artists Association.
Xu was most famous for his painting of horses as the masterpiece demonstrated here. With a solid foundation in Chinese painting, he borrowed the best techniques from Western painting. In his paintings of human figures or animals, he was most accurate in the depiction of both spirit and form. Xu’s works demonstrated not only his strong personality and creative spirit but also his patriotism, his sympathy with the working class, and his deep hatred for all evils.
Four treasures in the study room 文房四宝(wen fang si bao): Good paintings require good materials. The materials used in Chinese painting are writing brushes, ink sticks and slabs, and paper and silk, you can find all these materials in most of the souvenir shops.