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Chinese brush painting is considered one of the oldest artistic traditions in the world. Conservative estimates the origin to be during the Warring States period (403-221 B.C.).  Chinese painting in imperial times (221 B.C. - 220 A.D.) was the most cherished arts in aristocratic and court circles. Calligraphy has thought to be the purest form of painting during imperial times. During this time period, silk was the material of choice. When paper began to be made less expensively than silk, there was a natural progression to paper.

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It was during the Six Dynasties period (220-589 A.D.) that the general populous began to be exposed to Chinese paintings. Before this period, only the aristocratic and royal families could afford paintings. Because of this exposure, people began to write about Chinese painters and paintings. For example, a famous book entitled The Record of the Classification Of Old Painters was written by Xie He circa 550 A.D. In this book he establishes the famous Six Points to Consider When Judging a Painting.

The Sui and Tang Dynasty era (581-960 A.D.) proved to be a major influence on Chinese brush painting.  Figure painting rose to prominence in the royal court. These figure paintings were very realistic and highlighted the elegance of the royal court. A new style of painting was to emerge during the Tang period that is still very popular today, landscape painting. Landscape painting is often referred to as shanshui.

Buddhist and Taoist religious concepts entered into Chinese brush painting during the Song and Yuan period (960-1279 A.D.). Emphasis was placed on the spiritual qualities of the painting as Artists strived to show the harmony of man and nature. It was also during the end of this era that Chinese calligraphy was combined with Chinese brush painting. The combination of brush painting and calligraphy allowed the painter to express their feelings more completely than they could with just one art.

During the late imperial period (1368-1895), narrative painting became popular. It was also during this period that western influences were introduced into Chinese paintings. Chinese painters were becoming more exposed to Western art, and some painters even studied art abroad in Europe. It was these painters who broke from Chinese custom and tradition and began what is now considered modern Chinese brush painting. The most beloved modern Chinese painter was Qi Baishi. Today the freehand style called xieyi hua has become very popular. Its popularity is linked to the work of child prodigy Wang Yani.

Contemporary Chinese brush painting is going through a renaissance period. New schools have flourished in China and professional organizations have been reinstated. Foreign exchange students come to China to study and Chinese art students’ travel abroad learning Western styles of painting. This new period will bring new admiration to Chinese brush painting.

 
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