How to appreciate Chinese landscape paintings

Specialist Kim Yu looks at Classical, Modern and Contemporary Ink works offered during our Spring 2017 Hong Kong sales season

‘People often ask, how should I appreciate landscape paintings when they all look the same?’ explains specialist Kim Yu. It is, he admits, an interesting question.

‘When looking closely, you realise that each painting is unique. We can differentiate between artist by the way they treated mountains and rocks in a painting.’ Li Keran’s paintings, for example, mostly focused on woods rather than mountains and rocks.

LI KERAN (1907-1989) Jinggang Mountain Scroll, mounted and framed, ink and colour on paper 136.8 x 68.5 cm. (53⅞ x 27 in.) Entitled, inscribed and signed, with one seal of the artist Dated 1977. This lot is offered in Fine Chinese Modern Paintings on 30 May 2017, at Christie’s in Hong Kong.
LI KERAN (1907-1989) Jinggang Mountain Scroll, mounted and framed, ink and colour on paper 136.8 x 68.5 cm. (53⅞ x 27 in.) Entitled, inscribed and signed, with one seal of the artist Dated 1977. This lot is offered in Fine Chinese Modern Paintings on 30 May 2017, at Christie’s in Hong Kong.

If the artists wanted to show the textures of rocks, such as harder rock, they would employ stronger and faster texture strokes. Softer lines are used for the mountains in Guangdong and the South as their silhouettes are softer and smoother, the specialist explains.

Jin Tingbiao (18th Century), Landscape in Rain. Scroll, mounted and framed, ink and colour on paper 135 x 79 cm. (53⅛ x 31⅛ in.) Signed, with two seals of the artist. Estimate HKD 5,000,000 - 7,000,000. This lot is offered in Fine Chinese Classical Paintings and Calligraphy on 29 May 2017, at Christie’s in Hong Kong.
Jin Tingbiao (18th Century), Landscape in Rain. Scroll, mounted and framed, ink and colour on paper 135 x 79 cm. (53⅛ x 31⅛ in.) Signed, with two seals of the artist. Estimate: HKD 5,000,000 - 7,000,000. This lot is offered in Fine Chinese Classical Paintings and Calligraphy on 29 May 2017, at Christie’s in Hong Kong.

Why does a good landscape painting always depict mountains by a river? ‘In Jin Tingbiao’s Landscape in Rain, the river cascades down the canyons,’ says the specialist. ‘The mountains and river convey a sense of depth.’

Looking at a painting by Liu Kuo-sung, Kim Yu points out how the artist uses the river to set off the rocks, ‘which extend into the distance. Traditional painting and this kind of contemporary ink painting share a similar principle, which uses rivers and composition to create a sense of space.’

Liu Kuo-Sung (Liu Guosong, B. 1932), New Scenery of Kuimen. Hanging scroll, Ink and colour on paper 75 x 118.5 cm. (29½ x 46⅝ in.). Executed in 2005. Estimate HKD 800,000 - 1,500,000. This lot is offered in Chinese Contemporary Ink on 29 May 2017, at Christie’s in Hong Kong.
Liu Kuo-Sung (Liu Guosong, B. 1932), New Scenery of Kuimen. Hanging scroll, Ink and colour on paper 75 x 118.5 cm. (29½ x 46⅝ in.). Executed in 2005. Estimate: HKD 800,000 - 1,500,000. This lot is offered in Chinese Contemporary Ink on 29 May 2017, at Christie’s in Hong Kong.

In traditional landscape painting, appreciating a scroll is like exploring the scenery with the artist. The poems and inscriptions on the back further help to complete these works of art.

Lui Shou Kwan (Lü Shoukun, 1919-1975), Zen. Scroll, mounted and framed, Ink and colour on paper 148 x 86.5 cm. (58 ¼ x 34 in.). Executed in 1970. Estimate HKD 400,000 - 600,000. This lot is offered in Chinese Contemporary Ink on 29 May 2017, at Christie’s in Hong Kong.
Lui Shou Kwan (Lü Shoukun, 1919-1975), Zen. Scroll, mounted and framed, Ink and colour on paper 148 x 86.5 cm. (58 ¼ x 34 in.). Executed in 1970. Estimate: HKD 400,000 - 600,000. This lot is offered in Chinese Contemporary Ink on 29 May 2017, at Christie’s in Hong Kong.

Clouds are another important feature of landscape paintings. ‘While Zhang Daqian used clouds with splashed paints, contemporary painter Lui Shou-kwan uses water and ink to create an illusion of clouds,’ says Kim Yu.

Mountains, rocks, trees and rivers are not so important for Chinese modern and contemporary painters. ‘What matters,’ the specialist concludes, ‘is to fully express their emotions and intentions through the power of the artistic atmosphere. And the results are abstract paintings.’