“Asian art” is an broad term that encompasses numerous artistic movements that took place in Persia, India, China and Japan prior to widespread interaction with the West. (Digital Picture Printing & Frames currently focuses on Asian art produced in these countries from about the 15th to 19th centuries.) Asian art from this time period is gaining increasing attention from art historians and amateurs alike, who are interested in the ways other movements developed independently from those of Western art. Different understandings of time, space, as well as the types of subjects worth depicting, are demonstrated eloquently in the works of Asian art featured here. Asian art of this time period not only influenced later developments of Western art, but conversely, also foreshadowed ways in which Western art would eventually influence Asian art.
Landscape painting, which would eventually become a staple of Western realism, was first developed in China during the Song dynasty. Zhan Ziqian’s Spring Excursion is generally considered the oldest surviving landscape painting. Like most cultures worldwide, Asian art up to this point had focused on groups, figures and animals. Land and water, if they appeared at all, were represented by cursory outlines that composed the backdrop of the central activity or activities presented in the work. In the 14th century, then, when the elements of the background began moving closer to viewer and inhabiting more space on the canvas, a new form a painting was born. In Chinese, they called it shan-shui, meaning literally “mountains and water.”
One of the most well known names in Asian art is Ando Hiroshige. A master of landscape painting, his techniques would eventually influence major names in Western art including Van Gogh (whose 1887 painting “Bridge in the Rain” was modeled after Hiroshige’s famous painting “Thunderstorm at Ohashi”) Degas, Claude Monet, and Manet.
Indeed, the forms of Asian art captured the interest of Western artists who, in some cases, traveled east in order to master these techniques. One famous example is “Lang Shih-ning.” This was the Chinese name adopted by Giuseppe Castiglione, a native of Milan, Italy, who traveled to China in 1715. His artistic skills won the attention and praise of the nobility, and he eventually served as the court painter for three Chinese emperors. His combination of Western art techniques, especially the realistic depiction of animals and figures, with the Asian art style of landscapes, was highly influential for artists of both traditions.