This is an excerpt from one of my assignments of  last semester, demonstrating

how Guo Xi use San-Yuan三遠“atmospheric perspective” to create distances and spaces.

And this method is  still influential to the methodology of contemporary Chinese landscape painting.

Early Spring (早春圖)

By Guo Xi

dated 1072

ink and light color,on silk

105.8 x 108.1cm




Produced in the Northern Song dynasty(960-1127), a period with well-developed brushwork and composition, Early Spring is a quintessence to present the landscape painting style of this“Great age of Chinese landscape” and Guo Xi’s principles of landscape painting.

Guo Xi (after1000-c.1090ce) was a staff served in a court institution of academy, so-called a court painter. Systematizing his own views on painting, he was not only the emperor- Shengzong’s(宋神宗)favorite painter but also considered as one of the greatest painters of China. His treatise “ Lofty Messages of Streams and Mountains” has made a significant contribution to Chinese traditional landscape, proposing the idea of San-Yuan三遠“atmospheric perspective1”which is a skill to create the illusion of space and distance. I would further analyze this and other significances of this master piece in the following sections.

The main object in Early Spring is mountains. Mountain has become a prominent feature and motif in Chinese landscape painting after the Tang dynasty(618–906) collapsed and people withdrew from the society to the mountains in order to escape from the upheaval, commune with the nature and seek enjoyments. Early Spring depicted the renewal of the nature after ,winter with details ,refinedly.

Creating Distances

Guo Xi innovated the technique of “atmospheric perspective” which was influential in later Chinese landscape painting. The three approaches are namely high distant(高遠), deep distance(深遠) and level distance(平遠). These techniques are all included in Early Spring, the most famous work of Guo Xi. The distances enhance the reality and visual effects which emphasize the height and width,creating a vivid and monumental composition.

2.High distant: to create the height of the peak and to view from the bottom of the mountain looking up toward to the top

Level distant:to view the mountain which is far away from the nearby mountain

Deep distant: to create layers and to view from the front into the back

1T.C.Lai, Brushwork in Chinese Landscape Painting (Hong Kong: Chung Hwa Book Company and Swindon Book Company ,1983) p.100

 2. “山有三遠:自山下而仰山顛,謂之高遠;自山前而窺山后,謂之深遠;自近山而望遠山,謂之平遠。” (Lofty Messages of Streams and Mountains ,Gui Xi)

From:Cultural Literacy in the Asian Context

Assignment Two   

Elvis Cheung , Hong Kong, 2011