The Picture of White Clouds and Red Trees

The Picture of White Clouds and Red Trees is now collected in Beijing Palace Museum. Its texture is silk. The sights in this painting like green hills and cliffs, white clouds, red trees and so on, are just like the heaven on earth. The Picture of White Clouds and Red Trees adopts the technique of boneless drawing. It is seldom to see the traces of the outline and texturing used by the painter. The rocks in the painting are drawn with two colors: mineral blue and mineral green. The foot of rocks gives color to ochre. The tree leaves are dotted with different shades of red, yellow, blue and green. The outline of the trees is drawn a little bit, and then is set off by the colors. The grass is drawn by vermilion, which is very eye-catching. Mist wreathing around the mountains is first set off by light color slightly, and then be laid with white powder. The whole painting has taken shape all at a heat. It has rich and contrasting colors, and it is harmonious and unconventional, which manifests Lan Ying’s excellent boneless landscape drawing technique.

The characteristic of the boneless drawing method is using bright colors. Generally, the turquoise manifests the mountain and stone. Ochre manifests the earth. White powder manifests the cloud. Vermilion sets off maple leaf. This gives us an impression of strong colors and brightness. Experts say that the boneless method of Chinese painting is similar to the French impressionism paintings which were created in the late 19th century more or less. Both of them regard the light and color as the major goal of painting. According to experts, the earliest bone less drawing method in China presents itself in the Dunhuang Murals. It was speculated that this method was very likely introduced from the ancient Western Regions. Zhang Sengyao, a painter in the period of the Northern and Southern Dynasties, had been influenced by the method of Western Regions. He developed the boneless drawing method in Chinese painting. Zhang Sengyao was the most outstanding painter of Northern and Southern Dynasties and he was good at drawing figures, animals, flower and landscape.

Since Zhang Sengyao, a painter of Northern and Southern Dynasties, developed the boneless drawing method, many painters imitated him. Owning to different preferences, some of them preferred to draw boneless landscape painting. While other liked drawing boneless flowers and birds painting. This boneless drawing method broke the traditional way in which people draw the outline at first, and began a new drawing style.

Though boneless drawing method is with bright color, striking but not vulgar, which was also in accordance with the aesthetic standard of the upper class at that time, this method has its own limitation. Generally, it only fits for small frame. If the frame is big, it is not easy to represent the depth of field. However, Lan Ying's landscape paintings have its own unique characters. In his painting, he also uses some traditional landscape painting methods to outline a few lines, then lays color on it. This method mainly avoids the weakness of boneless paintings lacking of depth of field because of the big frame.  Lan Ying's works have not only vivid color but also relatively illusion of depth. This is his breakthrough of the boneless drawing method.

Lan Ying, a folk professional painter a Chinese Late Ming and Early Qing Dynasties, was especially good at landscape painting. This Picture of White Clouds and Red Trees by Lan Ying is considered in painting circles as being of skills of professional artist and sentiments of literati's paintings. Why do Lan Ying's paintings possess the literates style? This relates to his association with the painter of late Ming Dynasty-Dong Qichang.

Dong Qichang was not only the leader of the painting circles at that time, but also prominent at political position. According to historical records, Lan Ying had admired Dong Qichang for a long time. As he was only a folk artist without any status, it was difficult to get off with Dong Qichang. Having heard long before that Dong Qichang was a collector. Lan Ying brought his own copy of the painting to Dong's mansion and handed it to Dong Qichang. After seeing it, Dong Qichang fondled admiringly and spoke highly of it. He immediately asked Lan Ying how he got this picture. Lan Ying answered that this painting was not authentic work but his own copy. Dong Qichang struck with admiration and regarded the young man with special esteem. Lan Ying took this opportunity to acknowledge Dong Qichang as his master. Since then, Dong and Lan contacted with each other closely. Lan Ying had learned Dong's drawing skills systematically, and drew his own painting style close to that of literates painting. This made Lang Ying's paintings possess north features of professional painters' detailed description and literati painting's pursuit of similarity in spirit. Lan Ying was a hardworking painter. Even in his late years, he still had great energy in creativity. White Clouds and Red Trees was one of the works in that period. This painter had created a great number of boneless landscape paintings throughout his life.

Lan Ying's boneless painting skills had a profound impact on painting circles. Besides his own son and grandson, many other painters had been learning his drawing skills, such as Yun Shouping, Chen Hongshou and Lu Hui in Qing Dynasty, and Zhang Daqian in modern China.

The Picture of White Clouds and Red Trees was created in Shunzhi years of Qing Dynasty. It was created by Lan Ying when he was 74. This picture represents his highest level of drawing. This picture was collected by private individuals originally.  Not long after the foundation of the People's Republic of China, Beijing Palace Museum bought it. As to the information about the original collector and the date of purchase, there's no relevant written records available. It remains to be studied by experts.

After the Picture of White Clouds and Red Trees was collected by Beijing Palace Museum, its unique artistic charm makes it one of the most famous ancient Chinese paintings that have been displayed for many times by the museum.

top