Tree Peonies in Contemporary Chinese Painting

Chinese gardeners have been growing tree peonies for over a thousand years, so have Chinese painters been using them as inspiration for centuries. Traditionally these paintings were executed in water colors on rice paper in what is known as the “national-style painting” (guohua). Chinese painters always took some artistic license in depicting peonies; painting fantastical blue peonies or tree peonies with many different colored flowers on a single branch. From the Song to the Qing dynasties, a basic style prevailed in peony paintings. As modern China began to emerge from the war and revolution of the 20th century, artists pushed traditional artistic styles; lines became blurred and less uniform. The unbounded look executed by these modern artists are an expression of cultural continuity in which the “national-style painting” continued to depict tree peonies, the “national flower.”  Since China’s economic resurgence in the 1980s, painters continued to explore new styles, but also have harkened back to more traditional motifs. If history serves as any guide, its likely that tree peonies with their luscious, silken flowers will continue to enchant artists as well as gardeners in both China and the rest of the world for centuries to come.

Hong Wenzhan 红文湛 Drunk with the Flowers 与花同醉

Bai Lei 白磊 A Twist of Red 一捻红


Li Lingyun 李凌云 Ode to the National Flower 国花颂

Wei Chuanyi 魏传义 Grey of Frost 露华浓

Li Rongguang 李荣光 Happiness to Glory 欣欣向荣

Ji Xinmin 齐辛民 Peonies 牡丹

Kou Heng 寇衡 Music of Spring 春韵

Tian Boan 田博庵 Strong Sense of Spring 春意浓

Tan Difei 谭涤非 Cat and Butterflies/ a Portrait of Age 耄耋图

Xu Ronghong 徐若鸿 Peonies and Two Cranes 牡丹双鹤图

Zhu Dao 祝焘 The Fist Thing to Catch the Eye 独占人间第一看

Zhang Xiwu 张锡武 Gorgeous Beauty 艳冠群芳

Gu Bingxin 顾炳鑫 Peony Nymph 牡丹仙子

Wang Xiqi 王锡麒 Admiring the Peony 赏花图

Zhang Jingwu 张经武 Lantian Jade 蓝田玉

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