In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Qing Dynasty Painting

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Reference Works
  • Text-Based Studies
  • Image Archives
  • Historiography and Historical Background
  • The 17th Century
  • Portraiture
  • Professional Practice and Patronage
  • Materials, Formats, Techniques, and Technical Analysis
  • Landscape Paintings of Specific Places or Events
  • Ethnographic Painting
  • Buddhist Art
  • Japan-Related Studies
  • Oil Paintings and Export Painting
  • Women Painters
  • The Last Decade of Qing

Art History Qing Dynasty Painting
Claudia Brown
  • LAST REVIEWED: 16 January 2020
  • LAST MODIFIED: 30 January 2014
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199920105-0004


The Qing (Ch’ing, 1644–1911) period covers nearly three hundred years of China’s history, a long period by any standard, and yet modern scholars have been slow to recognize its importance in Chinese painting history, tending instead to favor earlier periods or contemporary art. The Qing was a conquest dynasty, by which is meant that an outside group, the Manchus, whose homeland was northeast of China proper, came to control the Chinese empire by force. After conquering the cities of the Yangzi (Yangtze) river area, China’s cultural heartland, the Manchu emperors adopted traditional Chinese culture with enthusiasm and embraced the long held practice of placing value on works by scholar-officials who followed the literati ideal of combining painting, poetry, and calligraphy. The Manchus also brought professional painters to court where they produced documentary works, portraits, copies of ancient masterpieces, and decorative programs for palace buildings. Outside the court, literati traditions came again to flourish, especially during the prosperous 18th century. There were contacts with European art, but more important for independent Chinese scholar-painters was the growing interest in collecting ancient inscriptions. This study of antiquities inspired experiments in calligraphy and affected painting as well. Lines between literati and professional painters blurred as urban centers provided new networks and settings for painting. As for the study of Qing painting, in 1743 court officials began the evaluation and cataloguing of the vast palace collection of scrolls and albums, old and new. Their work set the starting point for the study of painting of the Qing dynasty (1644–1911). Meanwhile, an eager audience in Europe and North America, already keen on chinoiserie, developed interest in “export pictures,” which combined elements of the traditions of China and the West. Although modern art historians were slow to take up the study of Qing painting, the formation of the Palace Museum and the first publications of its collections in the 1930s spurred a general interest that has resurfaced in the last twenty-five years. The challenge remains to sort out the relationship of court painting to private commissions and of scholar-amateur work to that associated with a modern, commercial art market.

General Overviews

Although there are few books or articles that attempt a comprehensive coverage of Qing painting, there are several useful sources with chapters devoted to painting of the period. Yang, et al. 1997 remains the standard historical survey of Chinese painting, often used as a textbook. Thorp and Vinograd 2001, also a standard textbook, offers extensive bibliographical referencing. Wang 1996 introduces ways of appreciating Chinese painting as well as details about formats, materials, and techniques. Li and Wan 1997 offers a pictorial survey of late Qing painting; Wan’s further work on painting of the nineteenth century is well presented in Wan 2005. Zhou 2004 offers an illustrated survey of Qing painting with artists’ biographies.

  • Li Chu-tsing, and Wan Qingli 萬青力. Zhongguo xian dai hui hua shi: Wan Qing zhi bu, yi ba si ling zhi yi jiu yi yi, 1840–1911 (中國現代繪畫史:晚清之部,一八四一至一九一一,1840–1911). Taipei: Shi tou chu ban gu fen you xian gong si (Rock Publishing International), 1997.

    A selection of works, in Chinese, from the period of the late Qing dynasty.

  • Thorp, Robert L., and Richard Ellis Vinograd. Chinese Art and Culture. New York: Abrams, 2001

    Two chapters by Vinograd (pp. 316–414) address Qing painting, linking the late Ming period (before the Qing conquest in 1644) and the 20th century.

  • Wan Qingli 萬青力. Bing fei shuai luo de bai nian: Shijiu shiji Zhongguo hui hua shi (並非衰落的百年:十九世紀中國繪畫史). Taipei: National Culture and Arts Foundation, 2005.

    (The century was not declining in art: A history of nineteenth-century Chinese painting). A wide-ranging survey of 19th-century painting in China including illustrations and essays, in Chinese, on literati painting, court painting, oil painting, and major works associated with Shanghai and Guangdong (Canton). Another edition published in 2008 (Guilin, China: Guangxi shi fan da xue chu ban she).

  • Wang Yao-t’ing. Looking at Chinese Painting. Tokyo: Nigensha, 1996.

    Chapter 6 (187–201) of this volume offers a comprehensive and straightforward survey of Qing painting.

  • Yang Xin, Richard M. Barnhart, Nie Chongzheng, James Cahill, Lang Shaojun, and Wu Hung. Three Thousand Years of Chinese Painting. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1997.

    A chapter by Nie Chongzheng (pp. 250–296) stands as the most comprehensive overview of Qing painting. Illustrated almost entirely with works in collections in the People’s Republic of China, it is a good complement to the publications of Qing painting in museums in the United States (see Collections and Museum Resources). An appendix lists Qing painters with their dates and alternate names.

  • Zhou Linsheng 周林生. Qing dai hui hua (清代绘画). Shijiazhuang, China: Hebei jiao yu chu ban she, 2004.

    A comprehensive survey, in Chinese, of Qing painting including illustrations of work by more than forty-five artists with biographies. An appendix offers brief biographies and small images from another seventy artists.

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