Chinese Landscape

Landscape is perhaps the most distinctive area of Chinese painting.
The landscape is always shown in relation to people: even the most towering mountain view includes a road, a traveller, or the roof of a distant temple.
Album leaf by Shitao (Metropolitan Museum)

Notes from  lecture “Chinese Landscape Painting – New Readers Start Here” by Professor Craig Clunas:

  • Landscape painting is not about landscape: it is about painting.  It is not merely representational: even when of a “real” place, it is certainly not a literal image of what the scene actually looked like.  Paintings relied on recollection, memory and feeling, but not on accuracy.   Reactions like “what is the story?” or “oh, it reminds me of somewhere” are not appropriate.
  • Landscape paintings  were made in a conscious tradition that expected “long concentrated periods in front of single objects”.  Historically, appreciation of paintings was a social and collective act: groups of connoisseurs gathering to examine and discuss works of art.
  • Chinese landscape paintings can all look rather similar, but they are usually trying to do very different  things.  In particular,  a western landscape often represented stability and order, whereas Chinese philosophy and landscape embraces change.
  • The western view of Chinese art often assumes it looks only to the past; this is no more correct than taking the classical façade of the British Museum as evidence that European art is stuck in the past.  Chinese landscapes were constantly “re-appropriating” the past and transmuting it.
Marsh landscape (c) A Reich
There are numerous famous landscape paintings from all periods.  e.g. A Thousand Li of Rivers and Mountains by Wang Ximeng (1096–1119, Northern Song Dynasty)

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