NEW YORK - At first look, Chinese paintings, with their tendency for empty negative space and artfully arranged brushstrokes, may seem abstract, however a closer look at Chinese “literati painting” – a term used to differentiate between the formal Northern School – will reveal that with their depictions of nature, a major goal of these works is to represent a balance and unity between their subjects’ natural appearance and the artists'  imagination.


Anonymous, Landscape, ink on silk, hanging scroll. Estimate $ 800,000 - 1,200,000 from the upcoming Fine Classical Chinese Paintings & Calligraphy sale on September 19, 2013.

How could one create three-dimensional images of semi-imaginary landscapes that still retain the force and familiarity of en plein air painting’s implied reality? Chinese painters never adapted formal technologies for linear perspective to calculate illusions; instead, depth is conjured more intuitively. For example, in mountainous landscapes such as this anonymous Song landscape, recession is brilliantly created by placing sharp, protruding pine trees in the foreground, followed by two visual echoes that lead into a totally blank, misty background (700 years of history has also, admittedly, contributed to this effort by causing the silk to fade and darken). Comparable techniques are also found in works by Romantic painters such as J.M.W. Turner.


Chen Zhongren, Landscape after Juran, ink and color on paper, handscroll. Estimate $ 500,000 - 700,000 from the upcoming Fine Classical Chinese Paintings & Calligraphy sale on September 19, 2013.

For lengthy hand scrolls such as this maximalist work by Yuan dynasty master Chen Zhongren, creating depth is a bit trickier. Long handscrolls are meant to be viewed in sections rather than in their entirety all at once, which makes it impossible to identify one vanishing point that governs the entire work. Also, it is simply impossible for any human eye’s visual field to accommodate panoramas this wide at once. Aforementioned atmospheric perspective techniques are aggressively applied – black spots known as “moss dots” add a velvety, tangible texture to the rocky peaks and really help them materialize against a background of ethereal haze. While architectural lines do not obey a precise formula of linear perspective, they do skew in angles that diminish into the distance and suggest acknowledgement for a set point of view.

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