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”)

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]

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 Hanging Scroll : Sesson Shukei "mt.fuji Scenery" @c520Early 19th Century Chinese Silk Embroidered Scroll - Female And AttendantOld Chinese Water Color Hand Scroll Painting Old Chinese Water Color Painting Scroll Of A Man With HorsesOld Chinese Water Color Painting Scroll Of Birds In A Cage By A TreeOld Chinese Water Color Scroll Painting Of Ducks On A Pond And CalligraphyTea Ceremony Scroll 4 Pcs : Daitoku-ji Gozan,soen,ippo "calligraphy" @u197Japanese Hanging Scroll : Ichido "moon And Bare Tree" @u240Japanese Hanging Scroll : Shimada Sekko "wisteria And Carp" @c530Chinese Big Hanging Scroll "abstract Painting" @u220Japanese Hanging Scroll : Kikukawa Ensai "moon,bamboo And Tiger" @c534Old Chinese Water Color Scroll Painting Of A Duck On A PondJapanese Hanging Scroll "crane And Turtle" @u201Japanese Hanging Scroll "moon And Flying Wild Geese" @u205Japanese Hanging Scroll "dragon And Raging Wave" @u203Japanese Hanging Scroll : Kano Tanyu "moon And Fukurokuju" @u207Japanese Hanging Scroll : Segawa Enkyu "dancing Beauty" @u212Japanese Hanging Scroll "snow Covered Bamboo" @u216Japanese Hanging Scroll : Kano Doshun "carp And Waterfall" @c539Japanese Hanging Scroll "mountain And Eggplant" @u218Japanese Hanging Scroll : Tokan "flowers And Bird" @u219Old Chinese Water Color Painting Scroll Of Houses With People And LandscapeJapanese Hanging Scroll "dragonfly And Two Egrets" @c521Chinese Hanging Scroll "peaches" @u232Indian Silver Scroll Holder C1890 Lucknow Dragon & Twin FishJapanese Hanging Scroll : Kano Tanshin Morimasa "snow Landscape" @c538#7199 Japanese Hanging Scroll: Calligraphy By Yamaoka TesshuOld Chinese Water Color Painting Scroll Of Lady SleepingJapanese Hanging Scroll : Mizuhara Baioku "sansui Landscape Painting" @u235Good Chinese Cloisonne Scroll-weight With Gilt Wire Dragon Decoration 19thcOld Chinese Water Color Painting Scroll Of House And LandscapeJapanese Hanging Scroll "two Swallows And Willow" @c535Japanese Hanging Scroll "dragon And Raging Wave" @c537Japanese Hanging Scroll : Soga Shohaku "targeting Hawk" @u236Japanese Hanging Scroll "ume Tree And Beauty In Heian Period" @u214Japanese Hanging Scroll "lingzhi Mushroom" @u222Old Chinese Water Color Scroll Painting Of A Man And LandscapeJapanese Hanging Scroll "sparrow And Bamboo In Snow" @c533Japanese Hanging Scroll : Ishikawa Chikuson "dragon Crossing Over Mt.fuji" @c525Chinese Hanging Scroll "fresh Peony" @u113Old Chinese Water Color Painting Scroll Of A Bird On Tree Branch With FlowersJapanese Hanging Scroll "sansui Landscape" @u237Japanese Hanging Scroll : Yamaoka Tesshu "calligraphy" @c522Japanese Hanging Scroll : Komuro Suiun "egret" @c519Japanese Hanging Scroll : Koyama Eitatsu "dragonfly And Chrysanthemum" @u230#7192 Japanese Hanging Scroll: Beauty & Plum BlossomJapanese Hanging Scroll "chained Monkey" @u208Japanese Hanging Scroll : Setsurei "village At Foot Of Mountain" @u228Fine Chinese Hand-painting Painting Scroll Qibaishi Marked Lotus Flower P30Japanese Hanging Scroll : Matsuno Baizan "dragon" @c52619485# Japanese Handicrafts / Fuchin (weight For Wall Scroll) / AgateJapanese Hanging Scroll "sansui Landscape" @u202Genuine Japanese Woodblock Print Utamaro Beauty Reading ScrollFine Chinese Hand-painting Painthing Scroll Zhaoshaoang Marked Scroll Book O32Japanese Hanging Scroll : Yamaoka Tesshu "calligraphy" @c536Japanese Hanging Scroll : Honnen "manjushri" @u206Fine Antique Chinese Qi Baishi Mark Hand Painting ScrollJapanese Hanging Scroll : Hanabusa Iccho "hotei" @u210Old Japanese Water Color Painting Scroll Of Birds And Flowers#7195 Japanese Hanging Scroll: Carp & Wisteria