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]

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 Tea Ceremony Scroll : Rinzai-sect Kasumi Bunsho "enso" W/box @c365Japanese Hanging Scroll "blue Wisteria And Fish" @c378Japanese Hanging Scroll : Uemura Shoen "kimono Beauty" @n901Japanese Hanging Scroll : Shunsui "beauty And Cat" @n902Hanging Scroll : Hayami Gyoshu "kimono Beauty And Cherry Tree" W/box @n910Superb Japanese Bronze Scroll Weight Of Lady, Edo/meiji 19th CenturyChinese Hanging Scroll "shishi / Lion" @c410Japanese Hanging Scroll : Ganku "cherry Tree And Beauty" @z974Chinese Hanging Scroll "flowers And Bird" @n357Japanese Hanging Scroll "tiger" @b786Chinese Hanging Scroll "dog Sitting Under Tree" @c406Hanging Scroll : Kano Tanyu Morinobu, Kano Chikanobu "crane And Ume" @c364Japanese Hanging Scroll : Ito Jakuchu "standing Crane" @z139Japanese Hanging Scroll : Shoun "two Beauties" @b766Japanese Hanging Scroll : Gyokurin "priest And Cat" @z906Jiku0871 Jrky Japan Scroll Kei Setsu Tiger & Shoki 18cJapanese Hanging Scroll : Mori Sosen "three Monkeys" @c447Japanese Hanging Scroll: Antique "tiger And Bamboo," C.1850, By Kansemi, EdoJiku0867 Jcfk Japan Scroll Tani Buncho Toad SenninJapanese Hanging Scroll : Hironobu "samuraia Warrior" @c357Japanese Hanging Scroll : Daitoku-ji Kobayashi Taigen "namu-amida-butsu" @c103Japanese Hanging Scroll "tea Bowl For Japanese Tea Ceremony" @c422Chinese Hanging Scroll "beauty Playing The Flute" @c372Chinese Big Hanging Scroll "wise Man" @c391Chinese Hanging Scroll "calligraphy" @c423Chinese Hanging Scroll "buddhist Painting~arhat" @z997Japanese Hanging Scroll "kimono Beauty And Maple Tree" @c408Japanese Hanging Scroll : Shokado Shojo "hotei" @b772Japanese Hanging Scroll "seiengashu / Elegant Gathering In West Garden" @c399Japanese Hanging Scroll : Kano School Fujiwara Yoshikuni "zhang Fei" @c380Tea Ceremony Scroll : Daitoku-ji Takahashi Etsudo "calligraphy" W/box @c355Japanese Hanging Scroll : Mori Sosen "little Cuckoo" @c426Japanese Hanging Scroll "kannon Bosatsu And Dragon" @b796Chinese Hanging Scroll "lotus" @b776Chinese Hand Painted With Ink And Water Color Painting Bamboo Hanging ScrollJiku0869 Cfsw Japan Scroll Isui Winter Flower & BirdJapanese Hanging Scroll : Kano Tsunenobu "moon And Pine Tree" W/box @c441Japanese Tea Ceremony Scroll : Daitoku-ji Fujii Kaido "mujinzo" W/box @c412Chinese 19th-20th C Scroll Paper Painting Binhong Marks Ta169kAntique Chinese Republic Period Bronze/ Paktong Scroll Weight Pair Enamel SignedJapanese Hanging Scroll : Tanomura Chikuden "scenery" @c415Jiku20565 Yjfk Japan Big Scroll Kano Eisenin Enoshima Island Japanese Hanging Scroll : Suzuki Shonen "crow On Tree" W/box @z179Hanging Scroll : Yamamoto Baiitsu "ume Tree And Bush Warbler" W/box @z129Jiku0862 Jrms Japan Big Scroll Hydrangea ShowaJiku0908 Jyms Japan Scroll Ogata Korin Haboku SansuiJapanese Hanging Scroll : Oda Kyosai "sansui Painting" W/box @z133Chinese Hanging Scroll "flowers,calligraphy And Figure Painting" @c436Tea Ceremony Scroll : Daitoku-ji Fukumoto Sekio "calligraphy" W/box @c428Pr Of Faux Ivory Figures Holding Fans, Flowers & Scroll. NrJapanese Hanging Scroll : Yamaoka Tesshu "calligraphy" @c435Japanese Hanging Scroll : Yamamoto Shunkyo "pine Tree And Monkey" @z958Jiku0921 Yjfk Japan Scroll Tani Buncho Blue Green SansuiJapanese Hanging Scroll : Kawanabe Kyosai "crow On Tree" @c448Chinese Hanging Scroll "calligraphy" @c377Japanese Hanging Scroll : Kazan "pine Tree And Carp" @c362Chinese Hanging Scroll "beautiful Girl" @c371Large Antique Chinese Picture / Scroll, With Script. (13 Feet And 4 Inches Long)Chinese Hanging Scroll "red Peony" @n863Japanese Hanging Scroll "kannon Bosatsu And Dragon With Kindei" @c373