Han Gan “Night-Shining White” and Tang Dynasty Brush Drawing
Tang dynasty is considered to be the second great dynasty of Chinese history. It had a very strong political system and a great economical background. During Tang Dynasty, noticeable improvements and developments were made in the areas of both art and technology. It was the first time in the history of China that the foreign culture was accepted. Both the cultures were widely exchanged and it led to integration too. The three religions namely Confucianism, Buddhism, and Taoism began to get integrated. In the field of art, realism and romanticism got combined into one. Due to these reasons new format and types of painting, poetry, dance, calligraphy evolved and all of them reached to newer and higher levels. Because of the broad-mindedness and open spirit, out of all the above, painting achieved a greater success.
“Night-Shining White” was a very successful and famous painting which was painted during the Tang dynasty. The size of the painting is 13 3/8 inches wide and 12 1/8 inches in height. The painting was drawn somewhere around 750 BC by the famous Chinese painter Han Gan. The white horse in the picture represents the emperor’s favorite horse. The horse is tied in front of a wood stake. Though Han didn’t use very complicated lines and structures, but the picture could still convey to the people that it was a very lively horse. Each and every detail in the painting was perfectly displayed by Han. It could be observed from the picture that the eyes and the nose of the horse were wide open. The fluttering of its mane in the air was also clearly visible. Viewers could almost hear it whinny and feel the movement. Apart from above observations, another great thing about the painting is that it showed not only the strong physically body of the horse, but it showed the mental strength of horse too. People from different cultures could not understand why the painter wrote some words on the original painting. In China, famous owners have written that a painting is considered to be great if it possesses both drawing as well as writing. It can be observed in the painting that the title for the painting is written on the left side of the painting next to horse head. “韩干画照夜白” was written by Li Yu, the last emperor of South Tang dynasty. The words next to the name of painting were written by Zhang Yanyuan, the famous historian during Tang dynasty. All the stamp impressions were put by its previous owners and most of them were famous artists in Chinese history.
Han Gan was born in XiAn, Shanxi province. He worked as a curt painter for the Chinese Emperor. His drawings pertaining to people and animals were perfect and he developed his unique drawing skill about horse which became major inspirations for future generations.
Han started working as a curt painter during the reign of Emperor Xuan Zong. The Emperor was not happy with Han in the beginning, as the horses drawn by him looked different from other curt painters and it never matched with the teacher’s style either. Once, the Emperor asked him why his horse drawings were like this. Han answered that he had his own teacher which is the horse itself and he learnt on his own by drawing its pictures. After hearing his answer, the Emperor Xuan Zong realized that the horses drawn by him looked more realistic when compared with the horses drawn by other painters. During those times, many great painters used to draw vivid horses, but Han’s horse drawing was considered as rare treasures. In addition to painting horses, Han Gan’s Buddha painting was also considered and recorded as a huge accomplishment.
Because of his achievements on horse drawing there does exist some of his legends. During the reign of the emperor De Zong, a person went around the market looking for a veterinary practitioner. He said that he is ready to pay a huge amount to the person, who would cure his horse. However, none of the veterinary practitioner had seen such a horse before. They said “The horses you have are very much like the horse from Han’s painting.” The owner then looked for Han and told him that his horse is getting sick. Han was surprised on seeing his horse and asked “doesn’t this horse look like the one in my paintings?” The owner told him that because he drew horses which were considered great, people from all over the world started drawing horses based on his drawings. Later Han came back to home, looked at the original picture of horse and found out that some part of the horse is missing in his paintings. He had immediately set it right. Few days later, Han received a large amount of money from someone. It is sure that the story isn’t true. However, it displayed Han Gan’s skill about horse drawing.
Drawing art in Tang Dynasty
Older rules and styles started to collapse during Tang dynasty with the setup of new rules and styles. At this moment, the traditional Chinese drawing system had achieved maturity. Mr. Maxwell pointed out in his writing about “How to read Chinese Paintings”, spanning a thousand years of Chinese art, landscapes, flowers, birds, figures, religious subjects, and calligraphies illuminating the main goal of every Chinese artist to capture not only the outer appearance of a subject but also its inner essence. The theme and the skill about painting improved a lot. Many great artists like Yan Benli, Monk Weichi, and Wu daozi evolved in this golden era. Like Han’s horse drawing, few artists created their very own unique style such as Wa Wei’s landscape and Bian Luan’s bird drawing. Another important moment during the time was Chinese brush drawing which began with the division of two groups; coloring landscape and dark ink landscape.
Chinese Brush drawing has developed since thousands of years; and it still possesses a lot of knowledge which we need to learn from it and many un answered questions need to be resolved in future.
Bi, Jiming. “Tang Dynasty Painting.” (1998):1-2. Database on-line. Available from ZHZL, http://www.zhzl.net/article.asp?articleid=15843. Accessed May 6,2010.
Hearn, Maxwell. “Chinese Painting.” (2000). Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. (New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000). Database on-line. (Last Modified June 2008). Available from Metropolitan Museum, http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/chin/hd_chin.htm
Hearn, Maxwell K. “How to Read Chinese Paintings.” (2008). (New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art).
Xiao, Ai. “A Summary of the Tang Dynasty painting. ” (2008): 1-3. Database on-line. Available from www.plcsky.com/wh/whzt/wzml/39801.shtml. Accessed May 7, 2010.
One-page Summary about Paintings and Artists
Han Gan was a famous painter born in XiAn, Shanxi province and he started his career as a curt painter for the Chinese Emperor during the reign of Emperor Xuan Zong. He was good in painting humans and horses and his horse paintings were considered as rare treasures. The painting titled “Night-Shining White” drawn at a size of 13 3/8 inches wide and 12 1/8 inches in height was a very successful and famous painting which was painted during the Tang dynasty, somewhere around 750 BC by Han Gan. Han never used complicated lines or structures, but his picture could still convey to the people that it was a very lively white horse of the Emperor. Each and every detail in the painting was perfectly displayed by Han. He became famous with horse drawings and laid inspirations for future generations. In addition to painting horses, Han Gan’s Buddha painting was also considered and recorded as a huge accomplishment. His paintings followed the written statements of famous Chinese owners that a painting is considered to be great if it possesses both drawing as well as writing.
Like Han’s horse drawing, few artists created their very own unique style such as Wa Wei’s landscape and Bian Luan’s bird drawing. There exist some of Han’s legends with the achievements of his horse drawing.
. Bi Jiming, “Tang Dynasty Painting, ” (1998), [database on-line]; available from ZHZL net, http://www.zhzl.net/article.asp?articleid=15843, p.1-2.
. Hearn Maxwell, “Chinese Painting,” Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. (New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000).
.Hearn Maxwell K, “How to Read Chinese Paintings,” (New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2008).
. Xiao Ai, “A Summary of the Tang Dynasty painting,” (2008), [database online]; Available from www.plcsky.com/wh/whzt/wzml/39801.shtml. p.1-3.