Ink wash painting

  (Redirected from Sumi-e)

Ink wash painting[1] is a type of East Asian brush painting that uses the same black ink used in East Asian calligraphy in different concentrations. Emerging in Tang dynasty China (618–907), it overturned earlier, more realistic techniques. It is typically monochrome, using only shades of black, with a great emphasis on virtuoso brushwork and conveying the perceived "spirit" or "essence" of a subject over the direct imitation.[2][3][4] It flourished from the Song dynasty in China (960–1279) onwards, as well as in Japan after it was introduced by Zen Buddhist monks in the 14th century.[5] Somewhat later, it became important in Korean painting.

Ink wash painting
Immortal in Splashed Ink.jpg
Liang Kai (Chinese: 梁楷, 1140-1210), Drunken Celestial (Chinese: 潑墨仙人), 12th century, Southern Song (Chinese), Taipei Palace Museum, Taipei
Chinese name
Traditional Chinese水墨畫
Simplified Chinese水墨画
Korean name
Japanese name
Kanji1. 水墨画
2. 墨絵
Hiragana1. すいぼくが
2. すみえ

In China and Japan, but much less so in Korea, ink wash painting formed a distinct stylistic tradition, with a different set of artists working in it from those doing other types of painting. Especially in China, it was a gentlemanly occupation associated with poetry and calligraphy, and often produced by the scholar-official or literati class, ideally illustrating their own poetry, and producing the paintings as gifts for friends or patrons, rather than painting for payment. In practice a talented painter often had a very useful advantage in climbing the bureaucratic ladder. Korean painters were less segregated, and more ready to paint in two techniques, and also to mix areas of colour with monochrome ink, for example in painting the faces of figures.[4][2]

The vertical hanging scroll was the classic format; the long horizontal handscroll format tended to be associated with professional coloured painting, but was also used for literati painting. In both formats, paintings were generally kept rolled up, and brought out for the owner to admire, often with a small group of friends.[6] Chinese collectors liked to stamp paintings with their seals, usually in red ink, and sometimes added poems or notes of appreciation. Some old and famous paintings have become rather disfigured by this; the Qianlong Emperor was a particular offender.[3]

In landscape painting the scenes depicted are typically imaginary, or very loose adaptations of actual views. The shan shui style of mountain landscapes are by far the most common, often evoking particular areas traditionally famous for their beauty, from which the artist may have been very distant. Water is very often included.[4][7]

Chinese: Li Cheng (Chinese: 李成; pinyin: Lǐ Chéng; Wade–Giles: Li Ch'eng; 919–967), Luxuriant Forest among Distant Peaks, detail, Liaoning Provincial Museum, 10th century China
Korean: An Gyeon, Dream Journey to the Peach Blossom Land, 한국어: 몽유도원도 (夢遊桃源圖), 1447
Japanese: Hasegawa Tōhaku (1539–1610), Pine Trees screen, Right panel of the Shōrin-zu byōbu (松林図 屏風). The painting has been designated as a National Treasure. Height: 156.8 cm (61.7 in); Width: 356 cm (11.6 ft)


In Chinese painting, brush painting was one of the "four arts" expected to be learnt by China's class of scholar-officials.[5] Ink wash painting appeared during the Tang dynasty (618–907), and its early development is credited to Wang Wei and Zhang Zao, among others.[4]

In the Ming dynasty, Dong Qichang would identify two distinct styles: a clearer, grander Northern School (北宗画 or 北画, C: Beizonghua or Beihua, J: Hokushūga or Hokuga), and a freer, more expressive Southern School (南宗画 or 南画, C: Nanzonghua or Nanhua, J: Nanshūga or Nanga), also called "Literati Painting" (文人画, C: Wenrenhua, J: Bunjinga).[2][8][9][10]

In Japan, the style was introduced in the 14th century, during the Muromachi period (1333–1573) through Zen Buddhist monasteries,[11] and in particular Josetsu, a painter who immigrated from China and taught the first major early painter Tenshō Shūbun (d. by 1450). Both he and his pupil Sesshū Tōyō (1420–1506) were monks, although Sesshū eventually left the clergy, and spent a year or so in China in 1468-69.[12] By the end of the period the style had been adopted by several professional or commercial artists, especially from the large Kanō school founded by Kanō Masanobu (1434–1530); his son Kanō Motonobu was also very important. In the Japanese way, the most promising pupils married daughters of the family, and changed their names to Kanō. The school continued to paint in the traditional Japanese yamato-e and other coloured styles as well.[9][3]

A Japanese innovation of the Azuchi–Momoyama period (1568-1600) was to use the monochrome style on a much larger scale in byōbu folding screens, often produced in sets so that they ran all round even large rooms. The Shōrin-zu byōbu of about 1595 is a famous example; only some 15% of the paper is painted.[13]

The smaller, more purist and less flamboyant Hasegawa school was founded by Hasegawa Tōhaku (1539-1610), and lasted until the 18th century. The nanga (meaning "Southern painting") or bunjinga ("literati") style or school ran from the 18th century until the death of Tomioka Tessai (1837–1924) who was widely regarded as the last of the nanga artists.[8][9]

In Korea, the Dohwaseo or court academy was very important, and most major painters came from it, although the emphasis of the academy was on realistic decorative works and official portraits, so something of a break from this was required.[14] However the high official and painter Gang Se-hwang and others championed amateur literati or seonbi painting in the Chinese sensibility. Many painters made both Chinese-style landscapes and genre paintings of everyday life, and there was a tradition of more realistic landscapes of real locations, as well as mountains as fantastical as any Chinese paintings, for which the Taebaek Mountains along the eastern side of Korea offered plenty of inspiration.[15]

In all three countries, brush painting remains popular with amateurs, and some professional artists, and continues to influence other modern styles of art.[4][3]


East Asian writing on aesthetics is generally consistent in stating that the goal of ink and wash painting is not simply to reproduce the appearance of the subject, but to capture its spirit. To paint a horse, the ink wash painting artist must understand its temperament better than its muscles and bones. To paint a flower, there is no need to perfectly match its petals and colors, but it is essential to convey its liveliness and fragrance. In this, it has been compared to the later Western movement of Impressionism.[2] It is also particularly associated with the Chán or Zen sect of Buddhism, which emphasises "simplicity, spontaneity and self-expression", and Daoism, which emphasises "spontaneity and harmony with nature,"[5] especially when compared with the less spiritually-oriented Confucianism.[4]

East Asian ink wash painting has long inspired modern artists in the West. In his classic book Composition, American artist and educator Arthur Wesley Dow (1857–1922) wrote this about ink wash painting: "The painter... put upon the paper the fewest possible lines and tones; just enough to cause form, texture and effect to be felt. Every brush-touch must be full-charged with meaning, and useless detail eliminated. Put together all the good points in such a method, and you have the qualities of the highest art".[16] Dow's fascination with ink wash painting not only shaped his own approach to art but also helped free many American modernists of the era, including his student Georgia O'Keeffe, from what he called a "story-telling" approach. Dow strived for harmonic compositions through three elements: line, shading, and color. He advocated practicing with East Asian brushes and ink to develop aesthetic acuity with line and shading.[4][8]


Ink wash painting uses tonality and shading achieved by varying the ink density, both by differential grinding of the ink stick in water and by varying the ink load and pressure within a single brushstroke. Ink wash painting artists spend years practicing basic brush strokes to refine their brush movement and ink flow. These skills are closely related to those needed for basic writing in East Asian characters, and then for calligraphy, which essentially use the same ink and brushes. In the hand of a master, a single stroke can produce astonishing variations in tonality, from deep black to silvery gray. Thus, in its original context, shading means more than just dark-light arrangement: It is the basis for the beautiful nuance in tonality found in East Asian ink wash painting and brush-and-ink calligraphy.[17]

Materials and toolsEdit

Dong Yuan (934 – 962) Dongtian Mountain Hall (Chinese: 洞天山堂圖). 10th century, the Five Dynasties (Chinese). National Palace Museum, Taipei.

The earliest intact ink brush was found in 1954 in the tomb of a Chu citizen from the Warring States period (475-221 BCE) located in an archaeological dig site Zuo Gong Shan 15 near Changsha (長沙). The primitive version of an ink brush found had a wooden stalk and a bamboo tube securing the bundle of hair to the stalk. Legend wrongly credits the invention of the ink brush to the later Qin general Meng Tian.[17]

Traces of the writing brush, however, were discovered on the Shang jades, and were suggested to be the grounds of the oracle bone inscriptions.[18]

The writing brush entered a new stage of development in the Han dynasty. First, it created the decoration craft of engraving and inlaying on the pen-holder. Second, some writings on the production of writing brush appeared. For example, the first monograph on the selection, production and function of writing brush was written by Cai Yong in the eastern Han dynasty . Third, the special form of "hairpin white pen" appeared. Officials in the Han dynasty often sharpened the end of the brush and stuck it in their hair or hat for their convenience. Worshipers also often put pen on their heads to show respect.[17][8]

To The Yuan and Ming dynasty, Huzhou emerged a group of pen making experts, such as Wu Yunhui, Feng Yingke, Lu Wenbao, Zhang Tianxi, etc. Huzhou has been the center of Chinese brush making since the Qing dynasty. At the same time, there was many famous brushes in other places, such as Ruyang Liu brush in Henan province, Li Dinghe brush in Shanghai, Wu Yunhui in Jiangxi province.[17]

Ink wash painting is usually done on rice paper (Chinese) or washi (Japanese paper) both of which are highly absorbent and unsized. Silk is also used in some forms of ink painting.[19] Many types of xuan paper and washi do not lend themselves readily to a smooth wash the way watercolor paper does. Each brush stroke is visible, so any "wash" in the sense of Western style painting requires partially sized paper. Paper manufacturers today understand artists' demands for more versatile papers and work to produce kinds that are more flexible. If one uses traditional paper, the idea of an "ink wash" refers to a wet-on-wet technique, applying black ink to paper where a lighter ink has already been applied, or by quickly manipulating watery diluted ink once it has been applied to the paper by using a very large brush.[8]

In ink wash paintings, as in calligraphy, artists usually grind inkstick over an inkstone to obtain black ink, but prepared liquid inks (墨汁 in Japanese, bokuju) are also available. Most inksticks are made of soot from pine or oil combined with animal glue.[20] An artist puts a few drops of water on an inkstone and grinds the inkstick in a circular motion until a smooth, black ink of the desired concentration is made. Prepared liquid inks vary in viscosity, solubility, concentration, etc., but are in general more suitable for practicing Chinese calligraphy than executing paintings.[21] Inksticks themselves are sometimes ornately decorated with landscapes or flowers in bas-relief and some are highlighted with gold.[18][4]

Ink wash painting brushes are similar to the brushes used for calligraphy and are traditionally made from bamboo with goat, cattle, horse, sheep, rabbit, marten, badger, deer, boar and wolf hair. The brush hairs are tapered to a fine point, a feature vital to the style of wash paintings.[4][8]

Different brushes have different qualities. A small wolf-hair brush that is tapered to a fine point can deliver an even thin line of ink (much like a pen). A large wool brush (one variation called the big cloud) can hold a large volume of water and ink. When the big cloud brush rains down upon the paper, it delivers a graded swath of ink encompassing myriad shades of gray to black.[3][18]

Once a stroke is painted, it cannot be changed or erased. This makes ink and wash painting a technically demanding art-form requiring great skill, concentration, and years of training.[8][3]

Chinese artists and their influence on East AsiaEdit

Li Cheng, A Solitary Temple Amid Clearing Peaks 晴峦萧寺. Ink and light color on silk. 111.76 × 55.88 cm. 11th century, China. Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art.
Fan Kuan (Chinese: 范寬; pinyin: Fàn Kuān; Wade–Giles: Fan K’uan, c. 960 – c. 1030), Travellers among Mountains and Streams (谿山行旅), ink and slight color on silk, dimensions of 6¾ ft x 2½ ft. 11th century, China.[22] National Palace Museum, Taipei[23]
Kuo Hsi, Clearing Autumn Skies over Mountains and Valleys, Northern Song Dynasty c. 1070, detail from a horizontal scroll.[24]
Ma Yuan (Chinese: 馬遠, 1160–1225), Dancing and Singing (Peasants Returning from Work, Chinese: 踏歌圖), 13th century, Southern Song (Chinese), Palace Museum.
Detail from the hand scroll Pure and Remote View of Streams and Mountains, one of Xia Gui's most important works, 13th century China.
Muqi (1210?–1269?), Six Persimmons, 13th century, Southern Song (Chinese), Collected in Daitokuji, Kyoto, Japan
Muqi (Chinese: 牧谿; Chinese: 法常, 1210?–1269?), Guanyin, Crane, and Gibbons, S. Song (Chinese), 13th century, set of three hanging scrolls, ink and color on silk, H: 173.9-174.2 cm., Collected in Daitokuji, Kyoto, Japan. Designated National Treasure.
Josetsu, Catching catfish with a gourd (Japanese: 瓢鮎図, Hyōnen-zu), ink on paper, 111.5 × 75.8 cm, 1415
Gang Hui-an, Scholar gazing at the running river, Gosagwansudo, 고사관수도 (高士觀水圖), 15th century.
Sesshū Tōyō (1420-1506), Autumn Landscape (Shūkei-sansui).

Tang, song and Yuan DynastiesEdit

Ming and Qing DynastiesEdit

Modern TimesEdit

Other countries in East AsiaEdit



  • An Gyeon was a painter of the early Joseon period. He was born in Jigok, Seosan, Chungcheongnam-do. He entered royal service as a member of the Dohwaseo, the official painters of the Joseon court, and drew Mongyu dowondo [ko] (몽유도원도) for Prince Anpyeong in 1447 which is currently stored at Tenri University. He was deeply influenced by the Southern School (Chinese: 南宗画; pinyin: nán zōng huà) of Chinese painting, especially Li Cheng and Guo Xi.[74]
  • Byeon Sang-byeok was a Korean painter of the Miryang Byeon clan during the late period of the Korean Joseon Dynasty (1392–1910). Byeon is famous for his precise depictions of animals and people in detailed brushwork. Byeon was deeply influenced by the Imperial-court Decorative Painting (Chinese: 院體畫; pinyin: Yuàn Tǐ Huà) of Chinese painting, especially Huang Quan.[75][76]
  • Gang Hui-an (1417?-1464), pen name Injae 인재, was a prominent scholar and painter of the early Joseon period. He was good at poetry, calligraphy, and painting. He entered royal service by passing gwageo in 1441 under the reign of king Sejong (1397–1418–1450).[77][78][79][80][81]
  • Nam Gye-u (1811–1888) was a painter and a government officer in the late Joseon period. Nam Gyewu was born to a high class and son of Nam Jinhwa who served as Busa. He lived in Namchon, Seoul and had an official career as Dojeong. Nam was especially good at depicting butterflies, so called as Nam Nabi (Butterfly Nam), his nickname. Through his lifetime, Nam Gye-u devoted to drawing pictures of butterflies and flowers.[82]
  • Kim Hong-do (김홍도, born 1745, died 1806?-1814?), also known as "Kim Hong-do", most often styled "Danwon" (단원), was a full-time painter of the Joseon period of Korea. He was together a pillar of the establishment and a key figure of the new trends of his time, the 'true view painting'. Gim Hong-do was an exceptional artist in every field of traditional painting, even if he is mostly remembered nowadays for his depictions of the everyday life of ordinary people, in a manner analogous to the Dutch Masters.[83]
  • Shin Yun-bok better known by his pen name Hyewon (1758–1813), was a Korean painter of the Joseon Dynasty. Like his contemporaries Danwon and Geungjae, he is known for his realistic depictions of daily life in his time. His genre paintings are distinctly more erotic than Danwon's, a fact which contributed to his expulsion from the royal painting institute, Dohwaseo.[84]
  • Jang Seung-eop (1843–1897) (commonly known by his pen name "Owon") was a painter of the late Joseon Dynasty in Korea. His life was dramatized in the award-winning 2002 film Chi-hwa-seon directed by Im Kwon-taek. He was one of the few painters to hold a position of rank in the Joseon court.
  • Jeong Seon (Korean: 정선) (1676–1759) was a Korean landscape painter, also known by his pen name "Kyomjae" ("humble study"). His works include ink and oriental water paintings, such as Inwangjesaekdo (1751), Geumgang jeondo (1734), and Ingokjeongsa (1742), as well as numerous "true-view" landscape paintings on the subject of Korea and the history of its culture. He is counted among the most famous Korean painters.[85] His style is realistic rather than abstract.[86]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ simplified Chinese: 水墨画; traditional Chinese: 水墨畫; pinyin: shuǐmòhuà; Japanese: 水墨画, romanizedsuiboku-ga or Japanese: 墨絵, romanizedsumi-e; Korean: 수묵화, romanizedsumukhwa.
  2. ^ a b c d Sharron Gu (22 December 2011). A Cultural History of the Chinese Language. McFarland. pp. 99–100. ISBN 978-0-7864-8827-8.
  3. ^ a b c d e f Lu Yilong (30 December 2015). The History and Spirit of Chinese Art (2-Volume Set). Enrich Professional Publishing Limited. p. 178. ISBN 978-1-62320-130-2.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i The Editorial Committee of Chinese Civilization: A Source Book, City University of Hong Kong (1 April 2007). China: Five Thousand Years of History and Civilization. City University of HK Press. p. 732–3. ISBN 978-962-937-140-1.
  5. ^ a b c Dorothy Perkins (19 November 2013). Encyclopedia of China: History and Culture. Routledge. p. 232. ISBN 978-1-135-93562-7.
  6. ^ Jenyns, 177-118
  7. ^ Jenyns, 152-158
  8. ^ a b c d e f g Watson, William, Style in the Arts of China, 1974, Penguin, p. 86-88, ISBN 0140218637
  9. ^ a b c Fred S. Kleiner (5 January 2009). Gardner's Art through the Ages: Non-Western Perspectives. Cengage Learning. p. 81. ISBN 978-0-495-57367-8.
  10. ^ Marco, Meccarelli. 2015. "Chinese Painters in Nagasaki: Style and Artistic Contaminatio during the Tokugawa Period (1603–1868)" Ming Qing Studies 2015, Pages 175–236.
  11. ^ Stanley-Baker, 118-124
  12. ^ Stanley-Baker, 126-129
  13. ^ Stanley-Baker, 132-134, 148-50
  14. ^ Dunn, 361-363
  15. ^ Dunn, 367-368
  16. ^ Dow, Arthur Wesley (1899). Composition.
  17. ^ a b c d Kwo, Da-Wei (October 1990). Chinese brushwork in calligraphy and painting : its history, aesthetics, and techniques (Dover ed.). Mineola, N.Y. ISBN 0486264815. OCLC 21875564.
  18. ^ a b c Cambridge History of Ancient China, 1999:108-112
  19. ^ Jenyns, 120-122
  20. ^ Jenyns, 123
  21. ^ Okamoto, Naomi The Art of Sumi-e: Beautiful ink painting using Japanese Brushwork, Search Press, Kent UK, 2015, p. 16
  22. ^ a b Ebrey, Cambridge Illustrated History of China, 162.
  23. ^ a b Liu, 50.
  24. ^ Sickman, 219-220
  25. ^ bio dates: Ch'en and Bullock, 49 and 53; Stimson, 22; Watson, 10 and 170; and Wu, 225. Note, however, other sources, such as Chang, 58, and Davis, x, give his years as 701–761
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  31. ^ Barnhart: Page 372. Guo Xi's style name was Chunfu (淳夫)
  32. ^ Ci hai: Page 452
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  35. ^ Barnhart: 373. His courtesy name was Yuanzhang (元章) with several sobriquets: Nangong (南宮), Lumen Jushi (鹿門居士), Xiangyang Manshi (襄陽漫士), and Haiyue Waishi (海岳外史)
  36. ^ "米芾的書畫世界 The Calligraphic World of Mi Fu's Art". Taipei: National Palace Museum. 2006. Archived from the original on 23 September 2013.
  37. ^ "Mi Youren". Boya Renwu.
  38. ^ Sickman, 334
  39. ^ Barnhart, "Three Thousand Years of Chinese Painting", 93.
  40. ^ Little, Stephen; Eichman, Shawn; Shipper, Kristofer; Ebrey, Patricia Buckley (1 January 2000). Taoism and the Arts of China. University of California Press. p. 160. ISBN 978-0-520-22785-9.
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  42. ^ Shen, Zhiyu (1981). The Shanghai Museum of Art. New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc. pp. 223–224. ISBN 0-8109-1646-0.
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  45. ^ Farrer, 115-116; 339-340
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  54. ^ "Xū Gǔ Brief Biography". Retrieved 17 July 2008.
  55. ^ "Wu Changshuo". Boya Renwu.
  56. ^ Encyclopedia of Chinese Artists (Zhongguo meishu jia renming cidian) on p. 131
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  63. ^ 毕楠. "Five major works of Xu Beihong that shouldn't be missed -". China Daily. Retrieved 20 November 2019.
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  75. ^ Yi Sŏng-mi (2008). "Euigwe and the Documentation of Joseon Court Ritual Life". Archives of Asian Art (in Korean). 58: 113–133. doi:10.1353/aaa.0.0003. ISSN 1944-6497. Retrieved 14 November 2009.
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External linksEdit