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    

Hanging Scroll : Katsushika Hokusai "waterfall And Boy With Flute On Cow" @c432Chinese Hanging Scroll "crested Myna On Branch" @f758Chinese Hanging Scroll : 惲 寿平 Yun Shouping "two Chickens" @z313Japanese Hanging Scroll : Katsushika Hokusai "banquet" @f791Chinese Big Hanging Scroll "waterfall Scenery" @f747Japanese Hanging Scroll "bamboo" @f748Japanese Tea Ceremony Scroll : Nanzen-ji Hojuin Shuzen-soitsu "enso" W/box @c424Chinese Big Hanging Scroll "mao Zedong And Celebrating People" @f811Chinese Big Hanging Scroll "waterfall And Autumn Mountains" @f740Chinese Hanging Scroll : 藍瑛 "pine Tree And Figure Painting" @z299Japanese Hanging Scroll : Hine Taizan "willow And Waterside Landscape" @f785Chinese Hanging Scroll "shrimps" @f830Wonderful Old Chinese Ancestor Family Scroll - Ancient Looking Example - RareJapanese Hanging Scroll : Kano Seisenin Osanobu "waterside Scenery" @f769Chinese Hanging Scroll "calligraphy" @f768Chinese Hanging Scroll "ume Blossoms" @c439Japanese Hanging Scroll "tokiwa Gozen" @f831Fine Antique Chinese Scroll Ink Painting Elephant & Attendants Calligraphy Qing Chinese Hanging Scroll "people In Snow Storm" @f759Fine Old Chinese Mountains River House Trees & Poem Silk Scroll Painting SignedChinese Hanging Scroll "shrimps" @f797Chinese Hanging Scroll "waterside Scenery" @f815Japanese Hanging Scroll : Hanabusa Iccho "hotei" @f739#7029 Japanese Hanging Scroll: Camellia & WaterfallJapanese Scroll With Antique Painting Of Hokusai Katsushika 1760-1849 Japan Japanese Hanging Scroll : Tani Buncho "moon And Raccoon Dog" W/box @z248Japanese Hanging Scroll "sansui Landscape" @f749Japanese Hanging Scroll : Gyokusanjin "three Frogs" @z349Tea Ceremony Scroll : Daitoku-ji Ohashi Korin "wakei Seijaku" W/box @c428Japanese Hanging Scroll : Oka Yoshitane "murasaki Shikibu" @f832Japanese Hanging Scroll : Uragami Shunkin "sansui Landscape" W/box @z402Tea Ceremony Scroll : Myoshin-ji Yamakawa Sokyu "calligraphy" W/box @c429Japanese Hanging Scroll "sailing Boat Scenery" @f746Tea Ceremony Scroll 3 Pcs : Daitoku-ji Kaido,gendo,gizan "calligraphy" @f608m#7012 Japanese Tea Ceremony Scroll: EnsoChinese Hanging Scroll "crickets And Locusts" @f770Japanese Hanging Scroll : Oda Kaisen "cherry Tree And Bird" @f787Chinese Hanging Scroll "arhat And Lotus" @f824Japanese Hanging Scroll : Maruyama Okyo "monkey Entertainer" @f793#7025 Japanese Hanging Scroll: The MoonJapanese Hanging Scroll : Otagaki Rengetsu "waka And Moonlit Scenery" @f855Japanese Hanging Scroll : Koun "bodhidharma" @f809Japanese Hanging Scroll "pine Landscape" @f77598333# Japanese Wall Scroll / Printed / Sunrise & Paired CranesJapanese Hanging Scroll : Nagai Ikka "crow On Maple Tree" @c435Japanese Hanging Scroll : Gantai,tosa Mitsuzane "cranes And Rising Sun" @c437Japanese Hanging Scroll "silkscreen Printed~moon And Owl" @f745Japanese Hanging Scroll : Kimura Ryohei "pomegranate And Bird" W/box @z409Japanese Hanging Scroll : Kano Doshun "taikobo / Jiang Ziya" @f806Japanese Hanging Scroll : Shunsei "colored Mountains Scenery" @f779Hanging Scroll : Shokoku-ji Hashimoto Dokuzan "snow Scenery" W/box @z3612 Chinese Stone Flower Trees Antique Cloisonne Planters Pots Lotus Scroll QingChinese Hanging Scroll "tiger And Pine Tree" @c438Tea Ceremony Scroll : Daitoku-ji Hashimoto Shojo "calligraphy" W/box @c430Antique Mid Edo Era "dragon" Japanese Hanging Scroll :kano Eishuku W/box SilkJapanese Hanging Scroll "willow And Rainy Scenery" @f783Japanese Hanging Scroll : Chikutei "autumn Scenery" @f782Chinese Big Hanging Scroll "tiger In Snow" @f789Japanese Hanging Scroll "shikishi" @f773Japanese Hanging Scroll : Daitoku-ji Ozeki Soen "byojoshin Kore Do" @f743