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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Cultural Sources of Ink and Wash / Sumi-e Painting: Chinese Brush Painting and Poetry


What is the Relationship Between Ink and Wash Painting / Sumi-e and Poetry?

A famous quote by the great painter Guo Xi of the Northern Song Dynasty is often mentioned when it comes to painting and poetry: “Poetry is painting without form, painting is poetry with form”, he stated, alluding to the close relation of the two arts. Paintings of the Southern Song Dynasty in particular are often called “lyrical”, relating to their romantic or melancholic atmospheres evoked by the use of misty areas and light washes. In ancient times, most of the painters who produced famous works were also poets and calligraphers; highly educated men who were trained in the “Three Perfections” – painting, poetry and calligraphy.

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