NEW YORK - Those who pay close attention to our sales will notice the title of the Chinese classical paintings auction has recently been changed to “Fine Classical Chinese Paintings & Calligraphy” to reflect a significant surge of interest in calligraphy in the recent years.  

The ancient, pristine and abstract art of calligraphy is appealing for painting collectors and lovers of Chinese literature alike. There is an ample amount of visually engaging material with which to work. While the Latin alphabet only contains 26 letters, the Kangxi dictionary of 1716 recorded 47,035 characters, and the number has – to every Chinese schoolchild’s horror – ballooned to 106,230 according to a dictionary published in 2004. Formulated from infinite permutations of pictographs and completely abstract symbols, the Chinese written characters are the perfect medium for practicing writing with a visual focus. For starters, calligraphy is organized into several scripts, and here is a brief tour through the top Chinese scripts found in classical and modern calligraphy:

 
Sun Xingyan, calligraphy in seal script, ink on paper, pair of hanging scrolls. Estimate $3,000-5,000 from the upcoming Fine Classical Chinese Paintings & Calligraphy sale on September 19, 2013.


Seal script

Invented around the Qin dynasty, seal script is one of the oldest in Chinese writing, and its connections to oracle bone scripts and Neolithic symbols can still be readily detected. Regal, structured and visually engaging, seal script was used widely for court documents and inscriptions on historical monuments, and continues to be the style of choice for seal carving until today.


Yi Bingshou, calligraphy in clerical script, ink on paper, set of four hanging scrolls
Fine Classical Chinese Paintings & Calligraphy sale on September 19, 2013.. Estimate $120,000-160,000 from the upcoming

Clerical script

Whereas the rectilinear, static seal script was originally designed to be carved on stone and bones, the clerical script was developed as a more handwriting friendly, simplified and practical form of writing. Clerical script is the template upon which all the modern scripts are developed, and due to its crisp legibility for modern writers, the script is a popular choice for calligraphers from the later centuries. With a reduced number of strokes, the quality of each line is emphasized – each should begin with a full shape that resembles the head of a silk worm, and finishes like the feathery, full tail of a phoenix.


Qian Feng, calligraphy in regular script, ink on paper, set of four hanging scrolls
. Estimate $8,000-12,000 from the upcoming Fine Classical Chinese Paintings & Calligraphy sale on September 19, 2013.

Regular script

Regular script was developed from clerical script towards the end of the Han dynasty, for the purpose of consolidating an official, proper system with a focus on clarity and structural integrity. It is the most crisp, upright script available and the basis for most contemporary Chinese fonts, as well as the first script taught to schoolchildren and those studying written Chinese. 


Wang Zhideng, Zhang Fengyi, etc., calligraphy in running script, ink on gold paper, fan leaf mounted as a hanging scroll
. Estimate $9,000-12,000 from the upcoming Fine Classical Chinese Paintings & Calligraphy sale on September 19, 2013.

Running script

This expressive style was developed almost simultaneously with the standard script. Swift and elegant, yet still faithful to the balanced structures of clerical script, this script is a favorite for calligraphy enthusiasts. Along with the even more wildly gestural cursive script (below), it was particularly fascinating to the Abstract Expressionists.



Song Ke, calligraphy in cursive script, ink on paper, two album leaves
. Estimate $50,000-70,000 from the upcoming Fine Classical Chinese Paintings & Calligraphy sale on September 19, 2013.



Cursive
script

Even more free and improvised than running script, this swift writing system was already widely appreciated during the Han dynasty. A more literal translation would be “grass script” or “weed script,” but cursive script is far more sophisticated than your average free-for-all scrawl; the task of writing sentences of sovereign characters in an uninterrupted, fluid and artistically conscious manner requires great foresight, and the momentum and rhythm of the brushstrokes are important criteria for appraising the quality of a manuscript.