Mountains and Water: Chinese Landscape Painting

Landscape painting is traditionally at the top of the hierarchy of Chinese painting styles. It is very popular and is associated with refined scholarly taste. The Chinese term for 'landscape' is made up of two characters meaning 'mountains and water'. It is linked with the philosophy of Daoism, which emphasizes harmony with the natural world.

Chinese artists do not usually paint real places but imaginary, idealized landscapes. The Chinese phrase woyou expresses this idea of 'wandering while lying down'. In China, mountains are associated with religion because they reach up towards the heavens. People therefore believe that looking at paintings of mountains is good for the soul.

Chinese painting in general is seen as an extension of calligraphy and uses the same brushstrokes. The colours are restrained and subtle and the paintings are usually created in ink on paper, with a small amount of watercolour. They are not framed or glazed but mounted on silk in different formats such as hanging scrolls, handscrolls, album leaves and fan paintings.

This tour was written to accompany the exhibition Mountains and Water, at the British Museum from 9 February to 28 August 2005. It was the first in a series of displays exploring the different traditions of Chinese painting.