- What is Chinese landscape painting? Compare Guo Xi’s Early Spring to a bird and flower painting by Emperor Hui-tsung.
Chinese Landscape paintings are paintings of nature. They often illustrate mountains, trees, clouds, birds, flowers and water and painted with expressive calligraphic brushworks in monochrome. The first traces of the Landscape in art could be found in tomb art, secular art and Buddhist art. In these early images, the landscape is not the focus but serves as a background to support the main narratives. However, over the years, the Landscape has become an important subject in Chinese art especially during the Song Dynasty (960-1279). Without a doubt, Chinese Landscape painting has developed greatly since its first prevalence in history. In this essay, I will compare two such paintings, Guo Xi’s Early Spring and Emperor Hui-tsung’s Five-coloured Parakeet, through exploring subject matter, technique, composition and purpose. While many might have thought of Chinese Landscape paintings to be simply depictions of beautiful scenery, there might be a deeper meaning to these picturesque masterpieces. Though both paintings are representations of nature, I believe they each carry very different symbolisms.
In Early Spring and Five-coloured Parakeet, the subject matter plays an important role in bringing meaning to the work. Guo’s work depicts mainly mountains, trees, rocks, mist and a waterfall. Also, if we pay close attention to the details of the painting, we would find a temple near the start of the waterfall and people, such as travelers and fishermen, near the foot of the mountain. It is said that distant mountains often represents refuge or paradise.  This could be tied to an obvious religious symbol in the painting – the temple. Incorporating these two symbols could suggest that perhaps one will be able to be closer to heaven by staying faithful to the religion. On the other hand, Five-coloured Parakeet depicts a lone parakeet perched on a flowering branch. The parakeet signifies dignity and nobility while flowers commonly represent beautiful women, scholarly purity and reclusion. The use of these symbols might indicate a person’s high status. There is similarity in subject matter of both paintings, that is they are all part of nature. They are recognizable objects because they exist in our surroundings. Hence, the subject matter is easily relatable and would help viewers to draw inference and put meaning to the works. Despite both paintings depicting an aspect of nature, they both set one’s sight on two notably different ideas.
 Department of Asian Art. “Landscape Painting in Chinese Art.” In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000-. http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/clpg/hd_clpg.htm (October 2004)
 Foong, Ping. 2000. “Guo Xi’s Intimate Landscapes and the Case of “Old Trees, Level Distance””. Metropolitan Museum Journal 35. [University of Chicago Press, Metropolitan Museum of Art]: 87–115.
 Hearn, Maxwell K. How to read Chinese paintings. Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2008.