Northern Song Landscape Painting

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At first glance, Song and Yuan landscapes seem to conform to a narrow set of compositional types, with requisite central mountains, hidden temples, and scholars strolling along a path.  In fact, the landscape tradition developed slowly as painters gained technical facility and consciously chose to allude to earlier styles or bring out philosophical or political ideas in their work.


Fan Kuan's Travelers Among Mountains and Streams, nearly seven feet tall, focuses on a central majestic mountain.  The foreground, presented at eye level, is executed in crisp, well-defined brush strokes.  Jutting boulders, tough scrub trees, a mule train on the road, and a temple in the forest on the cliff are all vividly depicted.


Click here to see a close-up of the foreground and one of the people in this painting.


Four or five different types of trees  are depicted here.  Click here to see a closer view of some of them.  


Fan Kuan creates rocks, trees, and all other elements in the painting through texture strokes and washes.  For close up views, click here.


Do you think Fan Kuan's painting encourages any particular emotional response in the viewer?

Fan Kuan (early 11th c.), Travelers Among Mountains and Streams   source



Guo Xi, the painter of the landscape shown in a detail at right, was a court painter in the late eleventh century.  He left significant writings on the philosophy and technique of landscape painting.  In answer to the question, Why landscape?, he wrote:


"A virtuous man takes delight in landscapes so that in a rustic retreat he may nourish his nature, amid the carefree play of streams and rocks, he may take delight, that he might constantly meet in the country fishermen, woodcutters, and hermits, and see the soaring of cranes and hear the crying of monkeys.  The din of the dusty world and the locked-in-ness of  human habitations are what human nature habitually abhors; on the contrary, haze, mist, and the haunting spirits of the mountains are what the human nature seeks, and yet can rarely find. "


Guo Xi (ca. 1020-1090), Early Spring, dated 1072; detail                                                          source


For a full view and details, click here...

Besides vertical hanging scrolls like the paintings by Fan Kuan and Guo Xi above, landscapes were also done as long horizontal handscrolls, viewed a section at a time as the work was unrolled.  Below is handscroll on silk by the late Northern Song painter, Wang Shen.


Do you see any similarities in style and composition in the  painting below and the two above by Fan and Guo?  What can one do better in each format?  Why leave such a large space empty?


For a close-up of the trees and waterfall, click here


Move on to Southern Song Landscapes