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Analysis of Early Chinese Painting from the Qing Dynasty

The beautiful style of early Chinese painting is truly amazing. The brushwork and line of these paintings have the look and feel of a drawing. Composition is extremely important, and these artists were masters of composition as well. I thought it fitting to include this genre for artistic analysis.

The artists featured in this slide show lived during the Qing dynasty which lasted from 1636 to 1912. We look at ten of the earlier artworks in this period for style and composition.

There were three basic art movements in China during this time – traditional art, individualist art, and court art. 

The Traditionalist Artists

The traditionalists focused on reviving the style of past masters. They compiled their paintings into stylistic albums where each page represented an earlier master’s particular style. The individualists and court artists looked down on the traditionalists as mere copyists. However, their goal wasn’t merely to copy previous works, but to incorporate and expand on the previous styles in their own artwork. Usually, when a new dynasty arose, the new monarchs eradicated anything remaining from the previous dynasty. Surprisingly, this didn’t happen with early Chinese painting. The traditionalists made sure the art of the past remained very much alive.

The Individualist Artists

The individualists were artists who sought to emphasize their own technique and personal expression. Loyal to the previous Ming dynasty, much of their artwork expressed dissatisfaction with those in power. They referred to themselves as ‘leftover subjects of the Ming’ and chose to live in relative isolation. Removing themselves from society also showed disdain for the new dynasty, large cities and local government rulers.

The Court Artists

Court painters were those under the employ of dignitaries at the Manchu court. Their job was to produce decorative artwork for the palaces in addition to works commemorating important historical events. Surprisingly, the Manchu court welcomed scholars and artists from outside of China, and invited them to express their creativity. The Chinese court artists were thus influenced by their Western contemporaries, introducing new techniques such as linear perspective and chiaroscuro lighting. These new styles they incorporated into their traditional Chinese brushwork. 

Personal Expression in Art is Key

The Chinese artists very much valued personal expression over the realism which dominated European art at that time. From The Grandeur of Art During the Qing:

‘…what mattered most in Chinese painting was the artist’s ability to express his personal feelings, to create an image of his interior world rather than describe the external appearances of things…’

Indeed, this concept continues as a source of inspiration for artists to this day.

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