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Sample Essay on Travelers among Streams and Mountains

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Sample Essay on Travelers among Streams and Mountains

This is an art painting by Fan Kuan who according to many was a leading artist and was known to compose Chinese landscape paintings. This piece of art is a hanging scroll composed of ink and light color on silk, measures 206.3 x 103.3 cm and displayed on National Palace Museum, Taipei[1].

Sadly, a lot of his antique upbringing is lost and some of his works may not even be verified because of his long existence. It is believed that at the time of his birth there were chaos and skirmishes that were caused by the ending of the five dynasties era. The collapse of the era was followed by a period of great inventions, tremendous progress and cultural richness. It is alleged that during that time Kuan spent most of his time wandering the mountains and rivers; it is here that he coined the idea of his art painting Travelers Among Mountains and Streams.  This was a tall composition of nearly 7 feet that justified the central place that he described as that master mountain, a genre on monumental landscape tradition.

In his painting, the viewer experiences ever-changing perspectives of past rocky escarpments, and cascades toward the towering bulk of the central peak. It can be noticed from the painting that an ethereal misty chasm at the mountain’s base contributes to the illusion of immense scale and extreme depth, a powerful statement of the Taoist concept of spirit energy infusing and connecting all things. It is acknowledged that he projected ideas that would only begin to be openly explored in Western art many centuries later.

Today, it is orated that images of nature have remained source of inspirations despite the Chinese landscape being transformed through human occupation. Chinese artists still express landscape themes as part of continuation with works commissioned by Kuan. Nevertheless, they have come up with their new styles of portraying expressions of the mind and heart that cultivate landscape notion and embody their culture.

Theme and subject matter

It is pronounced that the theme of the painting is revolving around nature with landscape as the subject matter. This assertion is supported by the fact that this art was not impressive but helped on shaping the mentality of people on nature. It is asserted that it became a model to many Chinese artists on how nature was beautiful.

The artwork has landscape objects that dominate to the extent of making viewers overlook the other objects like people. It is worth noting that the art in itself speaks to the magnitude and captivating qualities of nature while also showing the handprint of the Taoist perspective in the creation of this piece.

Visual artists have ranted that figures that Kuan used in his piece of artwork are almost indistinguishable from the adjoining natural rudiments and thus triumphing the goal of fussing into one with nature. This, as a result indicates that individuals are small and unimportant when likened to nature. The relationships of his work to history are simply affirming that the natural scenery played a vital role in the modeling of thinking and personalities of people. This is because the Chinese viewed mountains as sacred and imagined them as the abode of immortals.

It can be noticed from the art that constellations of plant life at the top of the tall elevation here are essentially detached forests tight-fitting to unjustified poles; the principal mountain is seen to be taking over the art. In addition, constellation of rock pillars can be observed in the right front section of the painting and it is a path on which a donkey entourage travels.

 The artist has used a cascading piece of silk that culminates in the stream rushing down in eddies towards the foreground. It is surprising how Fan Kuan concentrated the mountains and slopes with serrated framework lashes and packed them with brush dashes like raindrops, this is a procedure that highlights the vast and visible features of the mountains. It is evident that to the right of the donkey entourage, inside the tree leaves, a sign is appended. Though not much is known about the Kuan, other artists have acknowledged how somebody who was described as a mountain man and wine lover could be so unconventional and compose a majestic landscape painting with an orderly statement to reflect a world view of nature.

To convey the sheer size of his landscape in the painting, other visual artists have pronounced that Kuan relied on suggestion rather than description. This is attributed to the gaps between the three distances that acts as breaks between changing views. Attention of the audience is drawn to the rocks in the forefront, the rock projection in the mid, and the elevated peaks at the back of the composition.

The added images do not provide a physical connection and the audience is invited to imagine, roaming freely and must mentally jump from one distance to the next. Kuan is credited on the use of balance that theatrically amplifies the sense of immensity and space. Minor objects are made even smaller in contrast to the colossal trees and mounted peaks, they are astounded by their environs.

Art style

The style that Fan Kuan employed to compose his painting was Zhongli, it excelled in producing an amazing landscape painting.  It is believed that Kuan took a look at the nature and carefully studied the world around him and subsequently expressed his own response to nature. This style helped him to describe the external truth of the universe in a visual way and this assisted in discovering internal psychological truth.

History has established that his painting style was as a result of his open eccentric and princely character. Zhongli style of composing art was instrumental in employing a tripartite composition that featured a rocky promontory centered in the foreground with a donkey caravan below and lofty peaks in the background rising to form a range of monumental mountains. As indicated earlier, the mountain base was intentionally left blank to indicate the enveloping mists while also highlighted the effect of distance and separation in art composition.

The success of the painting is anchored on the forms used throughout the work that were rendered with angular outlines in ink, the texturing within the landscape elements were done in short strokes similar to raindrops, thereby simulating the geological characteristics of rocks and mountains. Lastly, it is established that the monumental range looms over the tiny figures in the caravan, creating a dramatic contrast that expresses inspiration and appreciation of nature thereby supporting the theme and subject matter that the artist wanted to communicate.


Hearn, Maxwell K. How to read Chinese paintings. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art,



[1] Hearn, How to read Chinese paintings (2008), 15-16.



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