Painted, scrumpled, burned or glued, paper is a long-suffering artistic staple. Invented in China some 2,000 years ago, it is one of the most versatile of all artistic materials, combining lightness with resilience and cheapness.
An early 12th century fragment from the Ise Shu (anthology of poems by Lady Ise). Ink on decorated paper. 20.1 x 15.8 cm. Werner Forman Archive/ Osaragi Jiro Collection. Image © Heritage Image Partnership Ltd/Alamy
Chao Meng-Fu, Sheep and Goat, circa 1300. Ink on paper.
Artists in 12th century Japan inscribed calligraphies and paintings on collages of coloured papers. The 13th century Chinese scholar, administrator and artist Chao Meng-Fu used paper in every field of his work, including his celebrated ink paintings (see above).
Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775-1851), Isle of Wight Sketchbook [Finberg XXIV], Alum Bay, Isle of Wight, 1795. Graphite on paper. 20.4 x 26.4 cm. © Tate, London 2015
Before the growth of printing and printmaking in the Renaissance, Europeans were slow to switch from parchment to paper. Many subsequent artistic innovations, however, are inconceivable without paper, from Romantic landscapists’ pocket sketchbooks (see above), photographic prints, Cubist papiers-collés to Surrealist photomontages (below).
Hannah Höch. (German, 1889-1978), Cut with the Kitchen Knife through the Last Weimar Beer-Belly Cultural Epoch in Germany, 1919-1920. Photomontage and collage with water-colour. 44 7/8 x 35 7/16 ins. (114 x 90cm.) Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Nationalgalerie. Image © bpk — Bildagentur für Kunst, Kultur und Geschichte, Berlin/Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Nationalgalerie © DACS, 2015
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