There have been many great painters in the rich history of Chinese art from as early as the third century to the modern era. Chinese art is most famous for landscape painting and some of the greatest landscape masterpieces have been painted by Chinese artists. The period of the Five Dynasties to Northern Song (907–1127) is considered as the “Great age of Chinese landscape”. Here are 10 of the greatest painters from China and their most famous masterpieces.

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#10 Shen Zhou

Lifespan: 1427 – 1509

Period: Ming Dynasty

Shen Zhou
Shen Zhou

Shen Zhou was one of “the Four Masters of Ming” along with Tang Yin, Wen Zhengming, and Qiu Ying. He played a pivotal role in the history of Chinese painting, contributed greatly to Chinese art by creating some of the most well-known masterpieces and founded the Wu School in Suzhou. Although Shen Zhou is most famous for his landscapes, he also created beautiful works depicting flowers, fruits, vegetables and animals. He had a very individualistic style and his accomplishments in art have led to him being revered by all artists devoted to the ideals of the literati tradition.

Masterpiece: Poet on a Mountaintop

Poet on a Mountaintop - Shen Zhou
Poet on a Mountaintop

Other Famous Works:-

  • Lofty Mount Lu
  • A Pure Conversation among Mountains and Rivers

 

#9 Wu Guanzhong

Lifespan: 1919 – 2010

Wu Guanzhong
Wu Guanzhong

Widely considered as the founder of modern Chinese painting, Wu Guanzhong has captured various aspects of China in his paintings like its architecture, plants, animals, people and landscapes. Wu was influenced by Post-Impressionist art and went on to blend Western and Chinese styles to create a unique form of modern art. Although most of his early works were destroyed during the Cultural Revolution in China, still many of his paintings, most notably his abstract landscapes, continue to inspire artists. In 1992, he became the first living Chinese artist whose work was exhibited at the British museum. Wu Guanzhong remains one of the most renowned contemporary artists in the world.

Masterpiece: Water Village in Jiangnan

Water Village in Jiangnan - Wu Guanzhong
Water Village in Jiangnan

Other Famous Works:-

  • Ancient City of Jiaohe
  • Winter Sun

 

#8 Bada Shanren

Lifespan: 1626 – 1705

Period: Qing Dynasty

Bada Shanren
Bada Shanren

Born Zhu Da, Bada Shanren was a direct descendant of a prince in Ming Dynasty. He was a child prodigy who started to create art and poetry in early childhood. The fall of Ming Dynasty led to Zhu Da becoming a Buddhist monk. After 40 years, he quit monastic life and became a professional painter. Zhu also took many pseudonyms. One of them is Bada Shanren, the name by which he is known today. Apart from being the leading painter of his time, Shanren was a complete eccentric and individualist. His paintings are known for capturing the very essence of the flowers, plants and creatures he portrays.

Masterpiece: Bamboo, Rock, and Mandarin Ducks

Bamboo, Rock, and Mandarin Ducks - Bada Shanren
Bamboo, Rock, and Mandarin Ducks

Other Famous Works:-

  • Lotus and Birds
  • Cat and Butterfly

 

#7 Qi Baishi

Lifespan: 1864 – 1957

Qi Baishi
Qi Baishi

One of the greatest contemporary Chinese painters, Qi Baishi is known for not being influenced by western styles like most of the painters of his time. He can be considered as the last great traditional painter of China. Qi Baishi painted almost everything from insects to landscapes. He is regarded highly in Chinese art for the “freshness and spontaneity that he brought to the familiar genres of birds and flowers, insects and grasses, hermit-scholars and landscapes”. In 1953, 4 years before his death, Qi Baishi was elected president of the Association of Chinese Artists. In 2008 a crater on Mercury was named Qi Baishi after him. His art remains highly valued and in 2011 his painting ‘Eagle Standing on Pine Tree’ sold for $65.5 million.

Masterpiece: Eagle Standing on Pine Tree

Eagle Standing on Pine Tree - Qi Baishi
Eagle Standing on Pine Tree

Other Famous Works:-

  • Shrimp
  • Plum Blossom

 

#6 Tang Yin

Lifespan: 1470 – 1524

Period: Ming Dynasty

A brilliant student, Tang Yin was accused of bribing to get the examination paper in advance. This ended his chance to pursue a career in civil service. Jailed and disgraced, Tang began to earn his living through painting and led a life of pleasure. His peculiar life story and eccentric lifestyle has made Yin an immortal figure in Chinese folklore. Tang created his personal style in painting by assimilating the techniques of the Four Great Masters of the Yuan. He is most known for his paintings that depict feminine beauty and is regarded as one of the “Four Masters of Ming dynasty”. He remains one of the most famous painters in the history of Chinese art.

Masterpiece: Court Ladies in the Shu Palace

Court Ladies in the Shu Palace - Tang Yin
Court Ladies in the Shu Palace

Other Famous works:-

  • Walking in the Mountains, Listening to the Pines
  • Clearing after Snow on a Mountain Pass

 

#5 Huang Gongwang

Lifespan: 1269 – 1354

Period: Yuan Dynasty

Huang Gongwang
Huang Gongwang

The “Four Great Masters of the Yuan dynasty” had a profound and lasting effect on Chinese art. Traits like individuality of expression, brushwork to reveal the inner spirit instead of outer appearance and suppression of decorative, even realistic, in favor of plainness mark the works of the great masters of Yuan. Huang Gongwang is the earliest and the most famous of the Four Masters. He is now regarded as the perfect literati (ink wash painting) painter. His work ‘Dwelling in the Fuchun Mountains’ is considered as one of the greatest masterpieces of Chinese art.

Masterpiece: Dwelling in the Fuchun Mountains

Dwelling in the Fuchun Mountains - Huang Gongwang
Part of the Master Hand Scroll of Dwelling in the Fuchun Mountains

Other Famous Works:-

  • Search for the Tao
  • Autumn Clouds in Layered Mountains

 

#4 Li Cheng

Lifespan: 919 – 967

Period: Five Dynasties and early Song Dynasty

Li Cheng contributed immensely to one of the golden ages of landscape paintings in world history. During his time he was considered the best landscape painter ever. Li created many landscape paintings, especially of Shandong area. Several of them are in diluted ink which gives them a foggy appearance. He is remembered especially for the winter landscapes he created and for simple compositions of tall, old evergreens set against a dry landscape. Li Cheng along with Fan Kuan, and Guan Tong later became known as the “three great rival artists” of probably the greatest period in Chinese painting.

Masterpiece: A Solitary Temple Amid Clearing Peaks

A Solitary Temple Amid Clearing Peaks - Li Cheng
A Solitary Temple Amid Clearing Peaks

Other Famous Works:-

  • Reading the Stele
  • Small Wintry Grove

 

#3 Dong Yuan

Lifespan: c. 934 – c. 964

Period: Five Dynasties

Dong Yuan
Dong Yuan

A master of both figure and landscape painting, Dong Yuan was the leading artist in the Southern Tang Kingdom of the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms Period. Along with his pupil Juran, he was the founder of the Southern style of landscape painting. Such is Dong Yuan’s influence that his elegant style became the standard of Chinese brush painting till nine centuries after his death. His most famous masterpiece ‘Xiao and Xiang Rivers’ showcases his exquisite techniques and his sense of composition.

Masterpiece: Xiao and Xiang Rivers

Xiao and Xiang Rivers - Dong Yuan
Xiao and Xiang Rivers

Other Famous Works:-

  • Dongtian Mountain Hall
  • The Riverbank

 

#2 Gu Kaizhi

Lifespan: c. 344 – 406

Period: Jin Dynasty

Gu Kaizhi
Gu Kaizhi

Considered the founder of Chinese painting, Gu Kaizhi is the most renowned artist of the Jin Dynasty. He wrote three books on painting theory which had a deep and profound influence on Chinese painting for many centuries to come. Though none of his originals survive, his art lives on through copies of a few silk handscroll paintings that are attributed to him. Gu is known for his attention to detail and for capturing vivid expressions of his subjects to reveal their spirits. He has acquired a legendary status in Chinese art and his following line is known by all: “In figure paintings the clothes and the appearances are not very important. The eyes are the spirit and the decisive factor.”

Masterpiece: The Admonitions of the Instructress to the Court Ladies

A section of The Admonitions of the Instructress to the Court Ladies - Gu Kaizhi
A section of ‘The Admonitions of the Instructress to the Court Ladies’

Other Famous Works:-

  • Nymph of the Luo River
  • Wise and Benevolent Women

 

#1 Fan Kuan

Lifespan: 990 – 1020

Period: Song Dynasty

Fan Kuan began his career by modeling his work on that of Li Cheng but later created his own style claiming that the only true teacher was nature. He became one of the most formidable artists of tenth and eleventh century and remains the most revered artist in Chinese history. His masterpiece Travellers among Mountains and Streams is an icon of landscape painting and future artists turned to it umpteen times for inspiration. Along with Li Cheng and Guan Tong, he is one of the ‘three great rival artists’ of the golden period of Chinese art. In 2004, Life Magazine rated Fan as 59th of the 100 most important people of the last millennium.

Masterpiece: Travelers among Mountains and Streams

Travelers among Mountains and Streams - Fan Kuan
Travelers among Mountains and Streams

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2 COMMENTS

  1. I have a painting that a relative a great uncle acquired in the early 1900. Who would I contact for information about it?

  2. Thank you for sharing this is remarkable! I love Chinese Art! That quote – only true teacher was nature from Fan Kuan is very true!

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