Chinese painting are one of the eldest continuous artistic traditions in the world. The earliest paintings were not representational but ornamental; they consisted of patterns or designs rather than pictures.
Stone Age pottery was painted with spirals, zigzags, dots, or animals. These paintings with an array of distinctive oriental styles record China’s long history and reflect its beautiful landscapes.
Below, we’ve compiled a list of the 10 most famous paintings of China.
Riverside Scene at Qingming Festival（《清明上河图》）
Along the River During the Qingming Festival is a painting by the Song dynasty artist Zhang Zeduan (1085–1145). The hand scroll painting is 528.7 cm long and 24.8 cm wide. It captures the daily life of people and the landscape of the capital, Bianjing (today’s Kaifeng) from the Northern Song period.
The theme is often said to celebrate the festive spirit and worldly commotion at the Qingming Festival, rather than the holiday’s ceremonial aspects, such as tomb sweeping and prayers. Successive scenes reveal the lifestyle of all levels of the society from rich to poor as well as different economic activities in rural areas and the city, and offer glimpses of period clothing and architecture. It is the only existing masterpiece from Zhang, and has been collected by the Palace Museum in Beijing as a national treasure.
The painting is considered to be the most renowned work among all Chinese paintings, and it has been called “China’s Mona Lisa.”
One Hundred Horses（《百骏图》）
“One Hundred Horses” was drawn by Lang Shining in Qing Dynasty (1644-1911). Lang was a missionary from Italy with birth name Giuseppe Castiglione. Working as a court painter in China for over 50 years, his talent in painting was regarded highly by Chinese emperors Kangxi, Yongzheng and Qianlong.
He helped to create a hybrid style that combined the Western realism with traditional Chinese composition and brushwork.
This paper painting, 813 cm long and 102 cm wide, captures 100 horses in various postures. They are kneeling, standing, eating and running on the grassland – staying alone and among groups.
Nymph of the Luo River （《洛神赋图》）
The copy collected by the Palace Museum in Beijing is a facsimile of the original made during the Song Dynasty (960-1279).
The narrative silk scroll depicts the meeting and the eventual separation of Cao Zhi and the Nymph of the Luo River; the art captures the tension through the composition of the figures, stones, trees and mountains. The painting is one of the most important Chinese artworks, representing the beginning of the development of Chinese landscape paintings.
Dwelling in the Fuchun Mountains （《富春山居图》）
Many consider him a member of the “four great masters of the Yuan.” He spent his last years in the Fuchun Mountains near Hangzhou and completed this painting in 1350.
The painting was drawn in black ink on paper. It vividly portrays the beautiful landscape on the banks of Fuchun River, rendering the mountains, trees, clouds and villages and capturing the essence of the natural scenes in Southern China. It is regarded as the best landscape ink painting in China’s art history.
Unfortunately, the masterpiece was damaged by fire and split into two pieces in 1650. Today, the first piece, 51.4 cm long and 31.8 cm wide, is kept in the Zhejiang Provincial Museum in Hangzhou, while the second piece, 636.9 cm long and 33 cm wide, is kept in the National Palace Museum in Taipei.
A Thousand Li of Rivers and Mountains （《千里江山图》）
“A Thousand Li of Rivers and Mountains” by Wang Ximeng, Northern Song Dynasty (960-1127), is a landscape painting masterpiece of ancient China. It is now part of the collection of the Palace Museum in Beijing.
Wang was one of the most renowned palace painters of the time. He became a student of the Imperial Painting Academy, and was taught personally by Emperor Huizong of Song. He finished this painting when he was only 18. Unfortunately, as a genius painter, he died very young in his 20s.
The hand scroll is 1,191.5 cm long and 51.5 cm wide. Heavy ink strokes of black and other colors vividly depict mountains, lakes, villages, houses, bridges, ships pavilions and people. It is one of the largest paintings in Chinese history and has been described as one of the greatest works.
Han Xizai Gives A Night Banquet （《韩熙载夜宴图》）
This painting, depicting scenes of Han’s banquet, narrates through five distinct sections: Han Xizai listens to the pipa (a Chinese instrument) with his guests; Han beats a drum for the dancers; Han takes a rest during the break; Han listens to the wind music; and the guests talk with the singers. There are more than 40 characters in the paintings, all of the lifelike figures with different expressions and postures. The painting was Gu’s most well-known work, as well as one of the most outstanding artwork from the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms period.
Emperor Taizong Receiving the Tibetan Envoy （《步辇图》）
Emperor Taizong Receiving the Tibetan Envoy (also called Bunian Tu) is a painting on silk by Yan Liben to show the friendly encounter between the Tang dynasty and Tibet. The painting is 129 centimetres (51 in) long by 38.5 centimetres (15.2 in) wide. Bunian Tu is in The Palace Museum in Beijing. The painting is 129.6 cm long and 38.5 cm wide, drawn on the tough silk, depicting the friendly encounter between the Tang dynasty and Tubo in 641.
In the painting, the emperor sits on a sedan surrounded by maids holding fans and canopy. He looks composed and peaceful. On the left, one person in red is the official in the royal court. The envoy stands aside formally and holds the emperor in awe. The last person is an interpreter.
Spring Morning in the Han Palace（《汉宫春晓图》）
This work represents various activities in a Han dynasty (206BC-AD220) palace on a spring morning. Among them is the famous story of Mao Yan-shou painting the portrait of Wang Zhao-jun. The intricate composition is rendered with crisp and strong brushwork and beautiful colors.
The lavish palace scenes are punctuated by trees and decorative rocks, creating marvelous scenery similar to that of the immortals. In addition to the groups of beauties, leisure activities of literati, such as painting, doing calligraphy, planting flowers as well as playing zither and chess, are shown.
This masterpiece of historical narrative painting by Qiu Ying was done for Hsiang Yuan-pien and completed after 1542.
Noble Ladies in Tang Dynasty（《唐宫仕女图》）
“Noble Ladies in Tang Dynasty” are a serial of paintings drawn by Zhang Xuan and Zhou Fang, two of the most influential figure painters during the Tang dynasty (618–907), when the paintings of noble ladies became very popular.
The paintings depict the leisurely, lonely and peaceful life of the ladies at court, who are shown to be beautiful, dignified and graceful. Zhang Xuan was famous for integrating lifelikeness and casting a mood when painting life scenes of noble families. Zhou Fang was known for drawing the full-figure court ladies with soft and bright colors.
The paintings are spread around in the collections of museums nationwide.
Five Oxen （《五牛图》）
“Five Oxen” is a painting by Han Huang, a prime minister in the Tang Dynasty (618–907). The painting was lost during the occupation of Beijing by the Eight-Nation Alliance in 1900 and later recovered from a collector in Hong Kong during the early 1950s. Now it is stored in the Palace Museum in Beijing.
The painting is 139.8 cm long and 20.8 cm wide. The five oxen in varied postures and colors in the painting are drawn with thick, heavy and earthy brushstrokes. They are endowed with subtle human characteristics, delivering the spirit of the willingness to bear the burden of hard labor without complaints.