Gu Kaizhi — Originator of Chinese Painting

Gu Kaizhi, a painter of Eastern Jin Dynasty, was bern into an official family in Wuxi, Jiangsu Province and served as a government officer at a young age. Having toured many beautiful places, Gu was proficient in writing poetry and essay, Chinese art history abounds in anecdotes about him with the following being one of them.

At 20, he was already a well-known painter, When the construction of Wagua Temple was built on the outskirt of for Jiankang (Nanjing), the monks and abbot could not collect enough money for the decoration. One day, a monk saw Gu Kaiz and asked him to donate some money for decorating the figure of Buddha. Gu offered to donate a large sum of money. He suggested he would draw a picture of the Buddha on the wail and, in the process, collect donations from curious passersby. For three consecutive days, thousands of people flocked to see the young man at work. By adding the final touches to the picture, the Buddha seemed to come alive, and the viewers cheered and applauded the young man’s artistry. Hence, the money needed for the consummate construction of the temple was obtained.

The young man who paid great attention to the details that revealed the paint Pei Kai’s portrait, a man with three, long, fine hairs on his face that had been ignored by other painters. Gu laid great emphasis on the three hairs to depict his unique feature and Pei was very satisfied.

Another time, Gu painted a man named Xie Kun standing in the midst of mountains and rocks. When asked the reason for the setting, Gu explained that Xie Loved to travel and see beautiful mountains and rivers. Such stories demonstrate Gu’s skill of creating atmospheres that enhanced the characteristics of his subjects.

The theme of the Luoshen Appraisal Painting was drawn from the article, Luoshen Appraisal (Luoshen Fu), written by Cao Zhi, son of Cao Cao. The painting depicts with wild imagination the meeting between Cao Zhi and the Goddess Luoshen at Luoshui River, vividly capturing the mood of their first meeting and eventual separation. Gu emphasized his subjects’ facial expressions, with the stones, mountains and trees having an ornamental purpose. Gu’s paintings, which greatly influenced later traditional Chinese paintings, are similar in style to the Dunhuang murals.

Gu also made great advances in summarizing painting theories. His theoretical works included Painting Thesis and Notes on Painting Yuntai Mountain. Gu paid considerable attention to the vivid expressions of his subjects to expose their spirit. His Graphic Theory later became a basic theory for traditional Chinese painting. According to historical records, Gu created more than 70 paintings based on historical existing scroll paintings include the Nv shi Zhen Painting, Luoshen Appraisal Painting and Lienv Renzhi Painting — the earliest examples of scroll paintings.