Ink brush painting Six Dragons by Song Dynasty (960-1279) painter Chen Rong fetched $49 million at a New York auction not long ago, attracting the public's attention to dragon paintings.
Since ancient times, the dragon has been a symbol of imperial power, and its image has been portrayed in many paintings, as well as on bronze wares, copper mirrors, jade wares, porcelain and stone carvings.
Dragon-shaped patterns on bronze wares from different periods. [Photo/Artron.net]
Before the Han Dynasty (206 BC-AD 220), images of dragons in artworks were fairly abstract and mysterious-looking. It wasn't until the Song Dynasty that the dragon became a more concrete and vivid creature. One ancient book describes the dragon as "its horn resembles a deer, its head resembles a camel, its eyes resemble a ghost, its neck resembles a snake, its belly resembles a sea monster, its scales resembles a carp, its claws resemble an eagle, its palms resemble a tiger and its ears resemble a cow".
Chen Rong's Cloud Dragon, collected by the Guangdong Museum. [Photo/Artron.net]
During the Song Dynasty, artists began to specialize in drawing dragons, such as Dong Yu, Wang Xiandao and Wu Huai from the Northern Song Dynasty (960-1127), and Chen Rong, Ai Shu, Seng Fachang from the Southern Song Dynasty (1127-1279). Among them, Chen Rong was the most famous.
A section of Chen Rong's painting Ink Dragon, collected by the Palace Museum in Beijing. [Photo/Artron.net]
The Southern Song Dynasty marks a transition in dragon painting history in China. Due to scholars' concerns about the nation during this period, they began to use the dragon, which is a symbol of the Chinese nation, as a vehicle to vent their emotions. They expressed their lofty ideals and spiritual pursuit through the imposing posture of dragon in paintings. Since then, dragon paintings that used to be done for the royal court, became a way to express personal emotion and ethnic sentiment.
A silk scroll painting from the Warring States Period (475-221 BC) depicts a sorcerer going up to heaven on a dragon. Collected by the Hunan Provincial Museum. [Photo/Artron.net]
It is said that Chen Rong always painted when drunk, and sometimes he just poured ink as clouds, sprayed water as fog, and smeared ink on paper with his scarf.
There are only a few of Chen Rong's paintings left now. His paintings Nine Dragons and Six Dragons were held by the Qing Dynasty palace and now his remaining works are collected worldwide.
A silk painting from the Warring States Period portrays a dragon and a phoenix flying above a woman. Collected by the Hunan Provincial Museum. [Photo/Artron.net]
Painting Cloud Dragon (or sometimes called Ink Dragon) collected by the Guangdong Museum is a typical masterpiece of Chen Rong. It depicts a flying dragon prancing high in the clouds, giving people a sense of shocking power. The painting is believed to represent the highest level of dragon paintings in the Southern Song Dynasty, and has remarkable position in art history.
Chen Rong's Nine Dragons is held by the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, the United States. It depicts nine dragons flying in mountains, clouds or torrents with different postures and full of imagination.
Chen Rong's Five Dragons is owned by the Tokyo National Museum and depicts five dragons in different poses.