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]

Gotheborg.com

Gotheborg.com

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 Hanging Scroll : Tani Buncho "ume Tree In Snow" @w873Chinese Hanging Scroll "calligraphy" @w889Japanese Tea Ceremony Scroll : Daitoku-ji Hosoai Katsudo "enso" @f391Chinese Hanging Scroll "calligraphy" @w875Jiku22114 Ajkb China Scroll 赵子昂 Flower & Bird & CalligraphyJapanese Hanging Scroll : Kano Motonobu "monkey Hanging From Tree" @w890Chinese Hanging Scroll "silkscreen Printed 印刷~ballet Dancers" @f395Japanese Hanging Scroll : Suzuki Kason "egret" @w907Japanese Hanging Scroll : Kano Yuho "scenery" @f343Japanese Hanging Scroll : Tosa Mitsuzane "two Cranes On Pine" @w868Japanese Hanging Scroll : Kano Tanyu "sansui Landscape" @f346Jiku22111 Ttna China Scroll 伯和文 Figure PaintingJapanese Hanging Scroll : Tani Buncho "flying Crane" @w888Japanese Hanging Scroll : Kishi Chikudo "crows" @w899Japanese Tea Ceremony Scroll : Daitoku-ji Adachi Taido "calligraphy~wakei" @f379Japanese Hanging Scroll "many Sparrows And Bamboo" @f361Huge Fine Quality Signed Antique Chinese Silk Ancestral Portrait Scroll PaintingJapanese Hanging Scroll : Ogata Kenzan "rising Sun" @w886Japanese Tea Ceremony Scroll : Daitoku-ji Sato Bokudo "enso" W/box @w905Japanese Tea Ceremony Scroll : Rinzai Sect Matsubara Taido "enso" W/box @w893Japanese Hanging Scroll : Kano Tsunenobu "two Birds And Chick" @w904Fine & Large Chinese Kesi Hanging Scroll Of The God Of Longevity, 19th CenturyJapanese Hanging Scroll : Sesshu Toyo "scenery" @w884F939: Japanese Old Hanging Scroll Three Monkys With Good Atmosphere.Jiku22104 Ytha China Scroll 伊孚九 CalligraphyJapanese Big Hanging Scroll "waterfall Scenery" @f401Tea Ceremony Scroll : Jodo Shinshu Otani Kozui "enso And Senshin" W/box @w894Japanese Hanging Scroll : Soju "samurai Warrior On Horse" @f392Japanese Hanging Scroll : Sekkei "saigyo Hoshi" @w879Jiku22126 Cjfk China Scroll 黄均 SansuiJapanese Hanging Scroll : Ganku "roaring Tiger" @w872Japanese Hanging Scroll "cherry Tree" @f347Japanese Hanging Scroll : Taniguchi Kokyo "seaside Scenery" @f352Silk Painting Scroll Gama Rennin Daoist Sage Immortal Tortoise Lao Tse Laozi YqzAntique Chinese Robed Woman Ancestor Portrait Scroll Painting 37 1/4" TallChinese Scroll Painting, Calligraphy, 1 Seal, Ink And Wash Of DeerJapanese Hanging Scroll : Shunzan "four Carps And Wisteria" @w869Jiku22110 Ttng China Scroll 郭宗茂 Flower & ButterflyJapanese Hanging Scroll : Yamaoka Tesshu "calligraphy" @w902Chinese Hanging Scroll "india Ink Bamboo" @w900Chinese Hanging Scroll "autumn Scenery" @f341Japanese Hanging Scroll : Mori Getsujo "crow In Snow" @f382F944: Japanese Kiri Wood Storage Box For Hanging Scroll Up To 20.5"Japanese Hanging Scroll : Kano Hisanobu "flowers And Bird" @f364Japanese Hanging Scroll : Ganryo "fierce Tiger @f393Jiku22105 Rjfk Japan Scroll Kawanabe Kyosai Fukurokuju Chinese Scroll Painting, Calligraphy, 2 Seals, Ink And Wash Of Man And DonkeyJiku22112 Jtsw Japan Scroll Ukiyo-e BeautyChinese Hanging Scroll "printed 印刷~collection Of Saels" @f339Japanese Hanging Scroll: Antique "fierce Tiger"" By Kano Michinobu, C.1760, EdoJiku22113 Ttha China Makuri Scroll 吴石僊 SansuiChinese Scroll Painting, Calligraphy, 1 Seal, Ink And Wash Of Bird And KoiChinese Hanging Scroll "ridgy Mountains And Boats Scenery" @f334Chinese Hanging Scroll "beauty Painting" @f350F942: Japanese Kiri Wood Storage Box For Hanging Scroll Up To 16.5"19c Chinese Porcelain Kwan Yin Blanc De Chine Scroll Lotus Figurine SignedJapanese Scroll E-maki Monochrome Tiger Painting -after Kano Yasunobu 1600’s YqzJapanese Hanging Scroll : Tanomura Chokunyu "winter Sansui Landscape" @w880Tea Ceremony Scroll : Daitoku-ji Nishigaki Daido "calligraphy" W/box @w878F941: Japanese Old Hanging Scroll Wild Boar With Good Atmosphere.