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How to Read Chinese Paintings

Hearn, Maxwell K.
2008
173 pages
175 illustrations
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The Chinese way of appreciating a painting is often expressed by the words du hua, "to read a painting." How does one do that? Because art is a visual language, words alone cannot adequately convey its expressive dimension. How to Read Chinese Paintings seeks to visually analyze thirty-six paintings and calligraphies from the encyclopedic collection of The Metropolitan Museum of Art in order to elucidate what makes each a masterpiece.

Maxwell K. Hearn's elegantly erudite yet readable text discusses each work in depth, considering multiple layers of meaning. Style, technique, symbolism, past traditions, historical events, and the artist's personal circumstances all come into play. Spanning more than a thousand years, from the eighth through the seventeenth century, the subjects represented are particularly wide-ranging: landscapes, flowers, birds, figures, religious subjects, and calligraphies. All illuminate the main goal of every Chinese artist: to capture not only the outer appearance of a subject but also its inner essence. Numerous large color details, accompanied by informative captions, allow the reader to delve further into the most significant aspects of each work.

Together the text and illustrations gradually reveal many of the major themes and characteristics of Chinese painting. To "read" these works is to enter a dialogue with the past. Slowly perusing a scroll or album, one shares an intimate experience that has been repeated over the centuries. And it is through such readings that meaning is gradually revealed.

Met Art in Publication

Vimalakirti and the Doctrine of Nonduality, Wang Zhenpeng  Chinese, Handscroll; ink on silk, China
dated 1308
Night-Shining White, Han Gan  Chinese, Handscroll; ink on paper, China
ca. 750
Grooms and horses, Zhao Mengfu  Chinese, Handscroll; ink and color on paper, China
Multiple artists/makers
dated 1296 and 1359
Classic of Spiritual Flight, Zhong Shaojing  Chinese, Album of nine leaves; ink on paper, China
ca. 738
Summer Mountains, Qu Ding  Chinese, Handscroll; ink and color on silk, China
ca. 1050
Old Trees, Level Distance, Guo Xi  Chinese, Handscroll; ink and color on silk, China
ca. 1080
Finches and bamboo, Emperor Huizong  Chinese, Handscroll; ink and color on silk, China
early 12th century
The Classic of Filial Piety, Li Gonglin  Chinese, Handscroll; ink and color on silk, China
ca. 1085
Biographies of Lian Po and Lin Xiangru  


, Huang Tingjian  Chinese, Handscroll; ink on paper, China
ca. 1095
Scholar viewing a waterfall, Ma Yuan  Chinese, Album leaf; ink and color on silk, China
early 13th century
Mountain Market, Clearing Mist, Xia Gui  Chinese, Album leaf; ink on silk, China
early 13th century
Hermitage by a pine-covered bluff, Yan Ciyu  Chinese, Fan mounted as an album leaf; ink and color on silk, China
second half 12th century
Poet strolling by a marshy bank, Liang Kai  Chinese, Fan mounted as an album leaf; ink on silk, China
early 13th century
Meeting between Yaoshan and Li Ao, Zhiweng  Chinese, Horizontal painting mounted as a hanging scroll; ink on paper, China
before 1256
Orchids, Ma Lin  Chinese, Album leaf; ink and color on silk, China
second quarter of the 13th century
Narcissus, Zhao Mengjian  Chinese, Handscroll; ink on paper, China
mid-13th century
Wang Xizhi watching geese, Qian Xuan  Chinese, Handscroll; ink, color, and gold on paper, China
ca. 1295
Twin Pines, Level Distance, Zhao Mengfu  Chinese, Handscroll; ink on paper, China
ca. 1310
Four anecdotes from the life of Wang Xizhi, Zhao Mengfu  Chinese, Handscroll; ink on paper, China
1310s
The Yellow Pavilion, Xia Yong  Chinese, Album leaf; ink on silk, China
ca. 1350
Showing 20 of 33

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Citation

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———, eds. 2008. How to Read Chinese Paintings ; [in Conjunction with the Exhibition Anatomy of a Masterpiece: How to Read Chinese Paintings Organized by The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, and Held There from March 1 through August 10, 2008]. New York, NY: Metropolitan Museum of Art [u.a.].