The Way of the Brush: Painting Techniques of China and Japan
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This is one of the best books about Chinese painting for those who want to understand not just Chinese painting techniques, but also something of the history and variety of traditional Chinese brush painting. The one drawback is the usage of the outdated Wade-Giles romanization (the book was first published in 1962), but that is merely a trivial annoyance compared to the wealth of information the author provides. Most instructional painting books are written by painters who focus on their own style, and give no credit to all the masters who have gone before them. This book shows many examples of paintings by master painters (ancient and modern), along with examples from the author's own teacher, master painter P'u Ch'uan. He thoroughly describes the different painting styles, with excellent examples, and many bibliographical references. I especially liked the fact that he gave 7 different versions of translations of «the Six Principles» of Hsieh Ho; by combining the common threads in all of them, their real meaning becomes clearer.
Another subject he talks about, although briefly, is the importance of understanding brush strokes in order to be better prepared to deal with forgeries and copies. This subject is almost universally ignored in books on Chinese painting, and yet it is very important. I have seen a painting in a catalog from one of the big auction houses that on first glance looked like another one of Li Ke-ran's many water buffalo paintings, and was attributed to him by the (anonymous) seller. Upon closer scrutiny of the brush strokes used, it was obviously a fake. And I am by no means a true expert.
If you are a beginner with no teacher to help you, then you will probably need other books, too. But for anyone who wants to learn about the history and traditions of Chinese painting, this is the ideal book.