Home Magazine Chinese and Japanese landscape paintings...

As we know, China and Japan have many cultural and historic differences and it is often easy to find contrasts between the two. At the same time, however, it is possible to highlight a lot of connections in their artistic practices and traditions. Today we will evidence five aspects of these similarities with a specific "Focus on landscape paintings" that you might keep in mind. If you would like to explore the latest news about the recent importance of the Asian art system.

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Both Chinese and Japanese artists from their origins have paid specific attention to their natural surroundings because in the philosophies of both countries man is always an active and integrated part of the landscape. Every kind of subject is a metaphor of the rhythm, essence and spirit expressed by natural elements. 


Detail of Qian Xuan's “Wang Xizhi Watching Geese.Credit Metropolitan Museum of Art

Traditional Chinese landscape painting is not considered as an independent form of art, but it is part of the “brush art” which included poetry, calligraphy and painting in one single discipline, in that order of importance, and it is generally taught and mastered by scholars of this tradition. Ancient Chinese landscape painting began as a way to narrate stories and poems, the first evidence of this art dates back to the Han Dynasty (206 B.C.E. - 220 C.E.) in which man was the central part of every work.


Japanese and Chinese artists have always paid a lot of attention to the four seasons. For each of them there are very different customs, techniques and colours. There are many examples of Japanese landscape painting being very important for the evolution of abstract art as we can see in the latest exhibition at Kunstforum Wien, "Fascination Japan: Monet, Van Gogh, Klimt." 


Katsushike Hokusai, Fuji Rosso. Courtesy Honolulu



In the context of monochrome painting, there are two famous techniques: Sumi-e (only ink) and Suibokuga (ink and water). These terms indicate a painting made only of ink, or painting made of rapid brushstrokes. Infinite shades of ink range from the white of the paper all the way to the green of the grass. The art of ink painting originated in Tang China (618-907) and developed under the Song dynasty (960-1279) through the so-called "essential six", the fundamental characteristics of painting identified by Jing Hao: breath, rhythm, spirit, scene, brush and ink. If the interaction of these six elements connected to the intellectual and philosophical substratum that the Chinese painters associated with nature, and could, therefore, capture its inner essence and the external appearance simultaneously, then color was no longer a necessity and monochrome painting could assert a certain dominance, connecting ever more closely with the art of calligraphy. The Sumi-e painting was brought to Japan in the 13th century by Zen monks, flourishing in the Muromachi era (1333-1573) especially within the Zen temples. The religious centers used it as a support for meditation and the monks practised it at different levels, privately but above all as a discipline. Paintings that complete the pictorial space of the screens with legacies that in this case refer to all the symbols of the Chinese landscape: very sharp rocky mountains, with a central basin of water. 

In all pictorial reinterpretations of the landscape, the naturalistic components of a classical Chinese and Japanese landscape such as mountains, rocks, trees, and streams do not translate into a pictorial realism, but they constitute an aesthetic-existential operation. They are to be considered as an instrument that serves the painter to investigate reality and find the way to the self-fulfilment of ones' individual essence, through the reunion with the Ultimate Reality.


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