Ink and Wash / Sumi-e Painting at a Glance – a Short Introduction


What is Ink and Wash Painting / Sumi-e?

When reading about Asian ink painting, one will encounter many different terms that describe this special kind of painting method. In Chinese, it is “shuimohua” (水墨画, lit. “water-ink-painting”) in Japanese “suiboku-ga” or more colloquially “sumi-e” 墨絵 (lit. “ink painting”). Despite its Chinese origins, it has become common nowadays to subsume all ink painting under the Japanese terms, although there is a small, but subtle difference between the term “sumi-e“ and „”suiboku-ga”. Both describe painting performed by the use of ink on paper, but whereas “sumi-e” just describes ink painting in general, “suiboku-ga” rather is seen as a part of sumi-e – by mixing ink with more or less water, it lays emphasis on shading, different ink tonalities and the combination of various ink tones. In suiboku-ga, the main aspect is to depict three kinds of ink intensities – dark, medium and light – in one single brushstroke.

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Cultural Sources of Ink and Wash / Sumi-e Painting: Literati Painting


What is Literati Painting?

“Shi dai fu hua (士大夫画) “ – “scholar painting”,  or “Wen ren hua” (文人画) “literati painting”, describe the painting of amateurs, the literati. The origins of the literati class date back much further, but both terms generally describe paintings executed by scholars in the Song (960-1279 CE) and Yuan Dynasties (1271-1368 CE). Literati were – to put it bluntly – scholars who painted as a hobby; statesmen, politicians or civil servants, who used painting as a way of self-cultivation and compensation for every day’s work.  As opposed to court painters or craftsmen, who earned their money by producing portraits and the like, scholar painters never sold their works. They saw the use of brush and ink as a way to convey their inner thoughts, be it through calligraphy or painting.

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Ink and Wash / Sumi-e Artworks and Masters – Xu Beihong (徐悲鸿 / Hsü Pei-hung): Reviving Old Traditions


A Short Biography of Xu Beihong (徐悲鸿 / Hsü Pei-hung)

Xu Beihong (1895 – 1953) belonged to the strongest painters in modern Chinese ink and wash painting. He was sent to France in 1919 by the Ministry of Education to study Art at the École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts in Paris. After graduation in 1923, he stayed in Europe and traveled around, examining the art of Berlin, Vienna and Zurich. He returned to Beijing in 1928 and became professor at numerous art institutions in Nanjing and Beijing. Until 1949, years were filled with exhibitions in China and in foreign countries. In 1953, he died of tuberculosis of only 57.

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