An Overview of Ink and Wash / Sumi-e Painting Books – Historical Surveys and Instructive Guides

Instructive Guides of Ink and Wash / Sumi-e Painting

With ink and wash painting being so popular in Chinese culture, it is only natural that a number of books have been written about this special kind of art. The works discussed here can give you a helpful overview not only about the different motifs and genres in Chinese painting, but also can help you with learning the different techniques and painting styles.

“Japanese Ink Painting – Lessons in Suiboku Technique” (1959) by Ryûkyû Saitô is a book which offers a short overview about Japanese ink and wash painting and the most important painting techniques. By showing some elementary motifs and how to create them, this book is a good help for beginners to get engaged into ink and wash painting.

Fritz van Briessen’s “The Way of the Brush” (1963) is almost 50 years old, but hasn’t lost its reliability. Van Briessen worked as a diplomat in Japan and China and learned Chinese painting during his stay in Beijing. In his book, he puts the emphasis on explaining the technical side of Chinese painting by introducing the necessary tools, describing different painting methods and various principles concerning composition, ink usage and brush movements. Paintings of Beijing landscape painter P’u Ch’uan complete the explanations of painting techniques. In addition to that, van Briessen offers an introduction to the philosophic background of ink and wash painting, namely the influence of Daoism.

“The Mustard Seed Garden Manual” must be one of the most important Chinese painting manuals that has ever been produced. Although dating as far back as the early Qing Dynasty, it is still an important educational tool for people who want to learn about the manifold ways of Chinese landscape painting techniques. It covers five volumes which deal with general terms of landscape painting (Vol. 1), how to paint trees (Vol.2), mountains and rocks (Vol.3), figures and architecture (Vol.4) as well as a collection of the most important works by landscape painters (Vol.5). Despite its age, this collection is still relevant and an elemental collection of painting techniques.

Historical Surveys and Monographs of Ink and Wash / Sumi-e Painting

The history of painting in China is a topic that is very well covered – there are in fact so many works about Chinese painting that it is difficult to recommend only one or two books. The works introduced below are therefore a broad selection which covers either larger or more limited historical epochs.

Lawrence Sickman and Alexander Soper give a general summary of Chinese painting in their work “The Art and Architecture of China” by dealing with the almost 4000 years of art in China. This book is not only about painting, but also other genres, illuminating the complex connections between different art genres.

Osvald Siren covers the complete history of Chinese painting in his monumental, seven-volume work “Chinese Painting: Leading Masters And Principles”(1958). The first two volumes include early painting and that of the Song Dynasty, completed by one volume with accompanying plates. The fourth and fifth volumes cover the Yuan, Ming and Qing masters, completed by volume six (plates). The last volume, number seven, offers annotated lists of paintings and reproductions.

James Cahill, professor emeritus at University of California, Berkeley, is a specialist on the field of Chinese landscape painting and wrote several books about this topic. His works prove an important contribution to today’s study of Chinese painting history. He covers painting of the Yuan Dynasty in “Hills Beyond a River: Chinese Painting of the Yüan Dynasty, 1279–1368” (1976) as well as the successive Ming Dynasty in “Parting at the Shore: Chinese Painting of the Early and Middle Ming Dynasty, 1368–1580” (1978) and “The Distant Mountains: Chinese Painting of the Late Ming Dynasty, 1570–1644” (1982). Cahill not only shows famous masterpieces, but also puts them in context by providing important information about the historic circumstances.

“Chinese Ink Painting Now” (2010) by Jason Kuo is a very recent collection of contemporary Chinese ink painting artists. The book discusses nearly 60 artists from different backgrounds and their works. Almost 170 images from public and private collections give an idea about the contemporary Chinese ink painting scene.