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    

Very Large Antique Chinese Textile With Figures Mounted On ScrollLarge Antique Chinese Blanc De Chine Statue Of Seated Woman With ScrollJapanese Hanging Scroll "hawk On Pine Tree" @w975Japanese Hanging Scroll "sitting Tiger" @w981Old Chinese Scroll Painting Of Flowers Growing Around A RockeryWonderful Antique Chinese Scroll Painting Of Landscape With WritingJapanese Hanging Scroll : Ikkyu Sojun "calligraphy" @w982Japanese Hanging Scroll : Sesshu Toyo "persimmon" @w972Beautiful Chinese Scroll Painting Of Figures In Landscape With WritingJapanese Hanging Scroll "tiger Looking Back" @w985Japanese Hanging Scroll : Kaiseki "fox And Moon" @f518Japanese Hanging Scroll : Tani Buncho "flying Butterfly And Lilly" @w983Jiku22198 Ajkg China Scroll 钱谷 SansuiChinese Scroll Painting, Calligraphy, 3 Seals, Ink And Wash TechniqueAntique Chinese Scroll Painting Of Landscape With Writing - 19cChen Shaomei 1909-1954 Very Important Chinese Artist. Big Scroll Painting ChinaLarge Old Chinese Scroll Painting Of Landscape With Figure In BoatJapanese Hanging Scroll "tokiwa Gozen" @f526Japanese Hanging Scroll "female Samurai On Horse" @f524Japanese Hanging Scroll : Ganku "peafowls And Rising Sun" @f549Japanese Tea Ceremony Scroll "enso" @f569Japanese Hanging Scroll : Hirai Chokusui "crane" @f539Antique Chinese Scroll Painting Of Landscape With Writing Tea Ceremony Scroll : Daitoku-ji Mieno Youn "enso, Calligraphy" W/box @w977Antique Imperial Chinese Silk Textile Five Toed Dragon Pearl Hand Signed ScrollJiku22201 Ctsh Japan Scroll Shibata Zeshin BambooJapanese Hanging Scroll : Hogetsu "kimono Beauty" @w968Jiku5037 Ctha Japan Scroll Tani Buncho Flower & ButterflyJapanese Hanging Scroll "mitate Fugen Bosatsu Eguchi No Kimi" @w984Chinese Hanging Scroll "arhat Under Tree" @w990Japanese Hanging Scroll : Kano School "figure Painting" @f511G544: Weight For Hanging Scroll Called Fuchin. Chinese Copper Ware Dragon Image Japanese Hanging Scroll "bamboo" @f557Jiku22211 Rtsw Japan Scroll Tiger With Art Club Writing Opinion Japanese Hanging Scroll : Kikuchi Hobun "dear" W/box @w986Japanese Tea Ceremony Scroll : Daitoku-ji Hosoai Katsudo "mu" W/box @g102Japanese Hanging Scroll : Kano Terunobu "five Horses And Willow" @g106Japanese Hanging Scroll : Yamaoka Tesshu "calligraphy" @f550Japanese Hanging Scroll "daikokuten On Big Mouse" @g108Japanese Hanging Scroll "grooming Peafowl On Pine Tree" @f517Tea Ceremony Scroll : Daitoku-ji Yamaguchi Daichi "sen No Rikyu" W/box @w971#2767 Japanese Hanging Scroll: Pair Of HorsesJapanese Hanging Scroll "monkey" @f512Japanese Hanging Scroll : Kano Chikanobu "grape And Squirrel" @f575Chinese Big Hanging Scroll "sansui Landscape" @f496Jiku22210 Cjwd Japan Scroll Yosa Buson Bonito Jiku5022 Jtfk Japan Scroll Mori Tetsuzan Flowers & BirdsHanging Scroll : Yamaguchi Kayo "scenery Of Small Boat And Village" @w966 Chinese Or Japanese ScrollOld Chinese 20th C Flowers Scroll Hand Painting Qibaishi Marks Wg821 Japanese Hanging Scroll "fan Surface-scenery" @f568Chinese Hanging Scroll "hundred Of Butterfly" @f584#2793 Japanese Hanging Scroll: Tanuki, Japanese Raccoon DogJapanese Big Hanging Scroll "five Swimming Carps" @f497Hanging Scroll : Takahashi Chikunen "moon And Weeping Cherry Tree" @w999Japanese Hanging Scroll : Hine Taizan "crow" @w973Jiku22209 Yykb China Scroll Figure Painting With Horse Japanese Tea Ceremony Scroll : Daitoku-ji Fujii Kaido "kissako" W/box @w987Chinese Hanging Scroll : 沈南蘋 / Shen Quan "various Flowers" @w978Japanese Hanging Scroll "ume Tree" @f545