How to Read Chinese Paintings


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Maxwell K. Hearn

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The Chinese often use the expression du hua, “to read a painting,” in connection with their study and appreciation of such works. This volume closely “reads” thirty-six masterpieces of Chinese painting from the encyclopedic collection of The Metropolitan Museum of Art in order to reveal the major characteristics and themes of this rich pictorial tradition. The book examines multiple layers of meaning—style, technique, symbolism, past traditions, and the artist’s personal circumstances—through accessible texts and numerous large color details. A dynastic chronology, map, and list of further readings supplement the text.


Spanning a thousand years of Chinese art, these landscapes, flowers, birds, figures, religious subjects, and calligraphies illuminate the main goal of every Chinese artist: to capture not only the outer appearance of a subject but also its inner essence. 

Published in association with The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Exhibition Schedule:

The Metropolitan Museum of Art (March 1 – August 10, 2008)

Maxwell K. Hearn is Douglas Dillon Curator, Department of Asian Art, The Metropolitan Museum of Art.


The Metropolitan Museum of Art (March 1 – August 10, 2008)

"This volume . . . visually analyzes thirty-six paintings and calligraphies in an effort to 'reveal' what makes them 'masterpieces.' Lavishly illustrated and eminently informative."—Art Times

"This text will be valuable to anyone wishing to know more about one of the great painting traditions, and could be used in the classroom."—Reference & Research Book News
ISBN: 9780300141870
Publication Date: August 1, 2008
Publishing Partner: Published in association with The Metropolitan Museum of Art
184 pages, 9 1/4 x 12
175 color illus., including 1 map