Years of wars in Northern China ended in the Song Dynasties in AD960. During this period, scholars thought highly of the accomplishment mastery of literature and expressing their feelings. Therefore, education was highly recommended. As many of the Song's emperors were much interested in art, the Imperial Academy was established, which was directly controlled by the emperor.
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The variety of themes continued to increase. Once again, folk paintings became popular. They are paintings of the civilians' daily lives, which reflect their custom. There was a type of "Jie Hua". This type of painting focuses on the lively scenes of streets, bridges, restaurants, etc. As they can tell us about the society at that time, they have special historical value.
There was a different type of figure painting --- Zen paintings. They showed the carefree lives of scholars and Buddhas. Apart from the new themes, old one about politics reappeared. Those describing the hardships, survivals and genitures of a dynasty were especially popular.
Besides flower and bird paintings, a new theme was fish and dragon paintings. Yi Yuan Ji, the artist even painted monkeys and apes. Paintings of horses and buffaloes were popular. Horses represent the emperor (sky) and the government officials, while buffaloes represent civilians (the Earth). They are a great contrast.
Many paintings are of symbolic objects. They carry a special meaning behind. For example, peories and peacocks represent nobles; plum blossoms, orchids, chrysanthemums and bamboo plants represent gentlemen.
Paintings of the Song Dynasties developed into two major styles. They are scholar paintings and academy paintings. Scholars and officials at the Imperial Academy enjoyed scholar paintings. They created works of art to express themselves. Many of them loved to paint the plants representing gentlemen. The scholar paintings give a relax and comfortable feeling.
Academy paintings are paintings by academy or imperial artists. These artists were among the best from all over China. The Imperial Academy at that time emphasized on analysis and being realistic. All academy artists had to follow this rule while paintings, and the painting style was gradually formed. The realistic style can be seen in paintings of all different themes.
The figures in Zen paintings are simple and Zen- like. They are considered to be "escapist works". Simple brush strokes were used instead of the ordinary delicate and subtle ones.
Guo Xi created new techniques in landscape paintings. He suggested that mountains could be viewed in terms of horizontal distance, "high farness" and"deep farness", that is what we can view mountains from horizontal and vertical perspectives. These characteristics can be seen in his landscape paintings. Through this method, his works achieved the "four possibilities" : able to see, to walk , to travel and to live.
The emperor Zhao Ji loved art. he proposed that a painting should integrate painting, poem and calligraphy. This idea became a favorite format of the scholar painters afterwards.
Something else to be mentioned is that not only did the emperor or literators inscribe on their paintings, imperial artists inscribed, too ( Gu Kai Zhi first started inscribing on paintings in Jin Dynasty). This shows that more and more artists wanted to have an individual identity in art.
Li Cheng (AD919 ~ 917 ) - He has combined the painting style of Northern and Southern China. This new style remained popular until the 12th century. Li was born into a noble family. His father and grandfather were famous for their erudition and upright when they were government officials. Li Cheng himself became a scholar and artist. He was one of the founders of the Song Dynasties' landscape paintings.
Wang Xi Meng (1096 ~1119 ) - He was highly recommended by emperor Zhao Ji. Being young and talented, he went in the courts when he was around ten. Zhao Ji once directly gave him some advice on his paintings. Unfortunately, he died at a young age. He painted using the green landscape method.
Li Tang - He was the most important artist in early Southern Song. As the army of Jin, a nearby country, invaded China, he escaped to Southern China like the others. He has combined Li Si Xun's style and Fan Kuan's style, forming a new style. It became the major style of Southern Song;s academy paintings. However, in the eyes of the emperor Zhao Gou, it was only a variant of the imperial style of Tang dynasty. The above painting is by Li Tang.
Guo Xi (approx. 1023 ~ 1085) He was emperor Zhao Xu's private important art theory was edited as "Lin Quan Gao Zhi" (name of the passage) and submitted to the emperor. The passage says that the most important aim of landscape paintings is to paint the appearance and verve of nature, and then to praise the great career of the empire. Guo Xi thought that painting is a part of art that cannot be missed out because people seldom have a chance to understand the nature, and plus, understanding the beauty of nature can mould one's character.
Fan Kuan (active from AD1023 ~ 1031) - He was "shan ren" of Taoism. "Shan ren" refers to people that adore nature and live in the woodlands far away from Luo Yang and Bian Liang, the two large cities. He wore rough and old- fashioned clothes, and he liked drinking and discussing about Taoism. He was rough and simple, jovial and generous. He was completely different from Li Cheng, yet his painting style was partly similar to that of Li. An artist once described the two artists as "wen (literature)" and "wu (warlike)". Liu Dao Chun also pointed out their artworks' differences incisively, "When viewed from a short distance, the objects of Li Cheng's paintings look as if they are a thousand miles away; When viewed from a long distance, the objects of Fan Kuan 's paintings look as if they are just in front of you... " Since Song dynasties, fighting skills have been less attractive to the emperors. Fan was probably one of the last group of artists the last group of artists that could use art to bring others into praising the courage and honesty of heroes.
Zhao Bo Ju (died in 1162) - He was an extremely talented artists of the imperial clan. His style is similar to that of Wang Xi Meng, but its connotation is more attractive, and the depiction is of higher quality.
Ma Yuen (active from 1189 to 1125) - Since Ma Bi, the Ma family had five generations that have worked in the Imperial Academy. Ma Yuen was one of them. The Ma family's paintings had a special characteristic: The composition of the painting extends through a diagonal from the bottom- left corner to the top- right corner; the trees are tall; below the top of the mountains is a sea of mist. >this picture is by Ma Yuen
Xia Gui ( active in early 13th century) - Together with Ma Yuan, they are called "Ma Xia". Like Ma Yuan, some of his artworks handed down through the many generations are painted for the emperor to inscribe a few words. There are also two handscrolls. In his paintings, we can see well- organized close shot and lookout. One of his painting has combined time and space. It shows landscape from morning until evening. It is seldom seen in paintings.
Li Gong Lin - He was one of the scholar painters. Although most of his paintings were flower and bird paintings, his horse paintings are very lively and realistic, and he is famous for it. He was also interested in the appearance of foreigners. He believed in Buddhism and his believes were shown in his paintings.
Cui Bai - His paintings have all kinds of contents. He can be considered as a representative of those who came from all around China to the capital just hoping that they could find a job in the courts. He was a strange artist. He seemed an incompetent in his daily lives, but his art skills were mature and generally praised. Zhao Xu, the emperor in his time, allowed him to work in the Imperial Academy, solely painting pictures at his will. Because of this, he knew Guo Xi very well. >click the picture to see more.
Zhang Ze Duan - His another name was Zheng Dao. His place of origin is present- day Zhu Cheng of Shan Dong province. He specialized in Jie Hua, and he has advanced skills in painting transportation, markets, bridges, streets, etc. He was also good at other kinds of paintings. He is famous for his Qing Ming Shang He Tu, which is considered the best of Jie Hua.