Before the 20th century, the idea that a painting should be framed and hung permanently on wall was a completely foreign concept in Asian countries like China and Japan. Art hanging on the wall was transitory and meant to be rolled up and stored, changed to match the occasion or season or mark an honored guest. These scroll paintings, usually ink on silk or paper, had weighted rods made of wood, ivory, or porcelain at the bottom and were stored in boxes marked with the name of the artists and the date.

Scrolls are an intimate form of painting meant to be touched and viewed up close. Part of the joy of owning an Asian scroll is the process of taking out a painting that's been in storage and re-experiencing it, bit by bit, as it unrolls. Since ancient times, Buddhist monks all over Asia, including India, Tibet, and Nepal, employed painted scrolls called "thangka" as a portable means for teaching their philosophy.

Early Chinese paintings were stories, told in pictures or in calligraphy, with wooden rollers attached to either side, read from right to left, a narrative art that was adapted by the Japanese during the influx of Chinese culture in the sixth century. These handscrolls are now rare, as few were made in the past century.

In China, horizontal scrolls were also employed as a canvas for landscape painting, and around the third century the Chinese were making screens that sometimes incorporated vertical scroll paintings. When these concepts reached Japan, the artisans of the Heian era (794-1185) were eager to make them their own, with non-religious Japanese themes like cherries, maples, and birds.

Common motifs in hanging scrolls include poems and Zen sayings in Japanese and Chinese calligraphy, as well as landscapes, seasons, flower-and-bird combinations ("kacho" in Japanese), religious themes, Zen icons, military scenes, Chinese boys, and portraits. During World War II, American soldiers in Japan were partial to "kakemono" showing women in kimonos, and so these hanging scrolls were mass-produced cheaply.

Japanese "kakemono" scrolls from masters from the Kano school, as well as big names like Uemura Shoen and Yokoyama Taikan go for a high price tag these days, but antique and vintage scrolls by unknowns sell for a few hundred dollars in Japan. Be sure to look for expected wear-and-tear, as most truly old scrolls will look a little beat up.

Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

Asian Art Museum

Asian Art Museum

You can get happily lost searching through the 10,000 or so objects on the Asian Art Museum's website. For example,… [read review or visit site]

Metropolitan Museum of Art: Timeline of Art History

Metropolitan Museum of Art: Timeline of Art History

Travel around the world through art with this museums collection of over 6,000 works of art, from Egypt to North A… [read review or visit site]

Jan-Erik Nilsson's extensive reference on antique Chinese porcelain. Jam-packed with information (e.g. on porcelain… [read review or visit site]

Most watched eBay auctions    

Japanese Big Hanging Scroll : Koyo "flying Dragon" @f964Japanese Hanging Scroll "monkey On Persimmon Tree" @f962Chinese Hanging Scroll "parrot On Pole" @g315Japanese Hanging Scroll : Ganku "tiger And Bamboo" W/box @g352Japanese Hanging Scroll : Kounsai "shirabyoshi-dancing Beauty In Court" @f976Japanese Hanging Scroll : Fukui Kotei "waterfall And Three Monkeys" W/box @g333Japanese Hanging Scroll : Nakabayashi Chikuto "winter Scenery" @f967Japanese Hanging Scroll : Kano Naonobu "waterside Scenery" @f982Japanese Hanging Scroll "calligraphy~tora / Tiger" @f992Two Chinese Paintings Scroll Plum Tree And Bamboo On PaperJiku5143 Rjsw Japan Scroll Soami SansuiJapanese Hanging Scroll : Kobayashi Gokyo "two Deer" @f990Japanese Big Hanging Scroll : Kano Tanshin Morimasa "spring Scenery" @g366Japanese Hanging Scroll : Sesshu Toyo "crow" @u135Japanese Hanging Scroll "fujin / God Of Wind" @u117Chinese Hanging Scroll "fleet Horse" @f991Japanese Hanging Scroll : Tani Buncho, Tani Bunichi "moon And Flower" @g309Large Chinese Painting Scroll With Beautiful Girls Japanese Hanging Scroll : Kano Sadanobu "dragon And Tiger" @g311Japanese Hanging Scroll : Hanabusa Iccho "seven Lucky Gods" @g340Japanese Hanging Scroll "pair Of Deer In Field" @g359Japanese Hanging Scroll : Tani Buncho "shoki And Oni" @g326Japanese Hanging Scroll "moon And Black Bird" @u112Japanese Hanging Scroll: Antique "dragon Ascending" By Tanshin Morimasa,1600'sJapanese Hanging Scroll "roaring Tiger On Rock" @g322Japanese Hanging Scroll : Soga Shohaku "woods And Man Opening Umbrella" @f993Japanese Hanging Scroll "splendid Spring Scenery" @g361Japanese Hanging Scroll : Ganryo,matsuno Baizan "mt.fuji" @g338Japanese Hanging Scroll "crab" @f957Japanese Hanging Scroll : Miyamoto Musashi "red Boddhidharma" @u127Japanese Hanging Scroll "chickens And Flowers" @g312Japanese Hanging Scroll : Shugetsu "priest" @u130Japanese Hanging Scroll : Tani Buncho "woodpecker" @g345Art Deco Japanese Skinny Scroll Shaped Meiji Bronze Bud Vase RareJapanese Hanging Scroll : Ueda Koho "birds Of Passage On Moonlit Night" @u159#3135 Japanese Hanging Scroll: Bird On Plum TreeJapanese Hanging Scroll : Nagai Ikka "two Flying Crows" W/box @g334Japanese Hanging Scroll "sansui Landscape" @g310Chinese Calligraph Long Scroll#3141 Japanese Tea Ceremony Scroll: "buji (peacefulness)"Japanese Hanging Scroll : Hanabusa Iccho "horses Around Tree" @u149Chinese Scroll Painting Geese At Night, Colored Ink On SilkJapanese Big Hanging Scroll : Hogaku "two Tigers Under Pine Tree" @g337Antique Japanese Hanging Scroll By Ueda Kocho - 'dragon Ascending 龍昇天' Edo C1820Japanese Hanging Scroll : Kikuchi Kogai "mountain And Riverside Scenery" @g329Japanese Hanging Scroll : Baiko "rising Dragon" @u125Japanese Hanging Scroll : Higashihara Hosen "two Birds And Maple Tree" @u119Japanese Hanging Scroll : Daitoku-ji Shoun "bodhidharma" @u128Japanese Hanging Scroll : Hanabusa Iccho "many Mice" @u146Japanese Hanging Scroll : Kobayashi Gokyo "flower And Two Doves" @u105Japanese Hanging Scroll "bamboo And Bird On Rock" @u121#3172 Japanese Hanging Scroll: Wild HorsesJapanese Hanging Scroll : Hayashi Razan "daikokuten,fukurokuju,hotei" @f994Antique Japanese Kutani - Imari Porcelain Figure Statue - Lady With ScrollJapanese Antique 300 Year Old Signed Lidded Paulownia Wood Scroll Box Japanese Hanging Scroll : Sesshu Toyo "sansui Landscape" @g368Japanese Hanging Scroll : Otohiko "flowers And Insects" @g327Japanese Hanging Scroll : Shunzan "emperor Jimmu And Golden Kite" @g317Japanese Hanging Scroll : Ganku "tiger In Snow On Moonlit Night" @g344Japanese Hanging Scroll : Kano Doshun "carp And Maple Tree" @g367