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]

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 : Sesson Shukei "mt.fuji Scenery" @c520Early 19th Century Chinese Silk Embroidered Scroll - Female And AttendantChinese Hanging Scroll "locust And Mantis On Corn" @u193Tea Ceremony Scroll : Rinzai Sect Seki Seisetsu "kumo / Cloud" W/box @c513Japanese Hanging Scroll Art Painting Bodhidharma Daruma Asian Antique #e4025Japanese Hanging Scroll : Tawaraya Sotatsu "pagoda Landscape" W/box @c514Japanese Hanging Scroll : Mori Kansai "carp Climbing Up Waterfall" @u179Old Chinese Water Color Hand Scroll Painting Tea Ceremony Scroll 4 Pcs : Daitoku-ji Gozan,soen,ippo "calligraphy" @u197Tea Ceremony Scroll 4 Pcs : Daitoku-ji Priests And Tofuku-ji Bunjo W/box @c508Antique Edo Era "tiger And Dragon" Japanese Hanging Scroll :signed Hp PaperAntique Japanese Hanging Scroll By Kanō Tanshin - 'prowling Tiger & Bamboo' Edo Japan Antique Letter Taiko Hideyoshi Hand Paintings & Scroll Kakejiku Yoroi Tea Ceremony Scroll 4 Pcs : Daitoku-ji Kando,taido,yodo,and Kanshu W/box @c509Japanese Hanging Scroll "crane And Turtle" @u201Old Chinese Water Color Painting Scroll Of Birds In A Cage By A TreeJapanese Hanging Scroll Art Calligraphy Asian Antique #e4024Vintage Chinese Painting Calligraphy Scroll Chickens Sunflowers NrJapanese Hanging Scroll : Komuro Suiun "egret" @c519Japanese Hanging Scroll Art Painting "waterfall" Asian Antique #e4012Japanese Hanging Scroll "dragon And Raging Wave" @u203Chinese Big Hanging Scroll "autumn Canal Scenery" @u186Old Chinese Water Color Scroll Painting Of Ducks On A Pond And CalligraphyFine Old Chinese Mountain Ravine Forest Hanging Silk Scroll Painting SignedJapanese Hanging Scroll "dragonfly And Two Egrets" @c521Japanese Hanging Scroll : Kosetsu "rising Dragon" @u194Japanese Hanging Scroll "moon And Flying Wild Geese" @u205Japanese Hanging Scroll "hawk On Pine Tree" @u175Japanese Hanging Scroll : Aoki Seiko "deer In Snow" @u176Japanese Hanging Scroll : Kakusen "pine Tree Scenery" @u182Japanese Hanging Scroll Art Painting "mt. Fuji" Asian Antique #e4017Old Chinese Water Color Scroll Painting Of A Duck On A PondOld Chinese Water Color Painting Scroll Of A Man With HorsesChinese Big Hanging Scroll "abstract Painting" @u220Japanese Hanging Scroll : Shimada Sekko "wisteria And Carp" @c530Japanese Hanging Scroll : Satake Eiryo "moon And Flower Blossoms Scenery" @c516Vintage Chinese Painting Calligraphy Scroll Persimmons Fruit NrChinese Hanging Scroll "gui Fei Zui Jiu" @u195Japanese Hanging Scroll : Kawabata Gyokusho "waterfall" @u183Japanese Hanging Scroll : Takahashi Gyokuen "spring Scenery" @u178Japanese Painting Sketch Scroll 17m Long Hand Drawing Birds Flower Edo-meiji*594Japanese Hanging Scroll : Segawa Enkyu "dancing Beauty" @u21218352# Japanese Wall Scroll / Hand Painted / Pine & Ume With Two CranesOld Chinese Water Color Painting Scroll Of Lady SleepingJapanese Hanging Scroll : Ishikawa Chikuson "dragon Crossing Over Mt.fuji" @c525Old Chinese Water Color Painting Scroll Of Houses With People And LandscapeAntique Edo Era "samurai Armor" Japanese Hanging Scroll :signed 英義董 Hp SilkJapanese Hanging Scroll "snow Covered Bamboo" @u216Orig Japanese Hand-painted Manuscript Scroll Set (11) 68 Ft Archery & Horse 1622Japanese Hanging Scroll "ume Tree And Beauty In Heian Period" @u214Japanese Painting Sketch Scroll 11m Long Hand Drawing Birds Fish Edo-meiji *597Chinese Hanging Scroll Art Painting Repro Bosatsu Bodhisattva #e4016Antique Late Edo Era "anglers" Japanese Hanging Scroll :oda KaisenJapanese Hanging Scroll Art Painting "red Bamboo" Asian Antique #e4019Japanese Hanging Scroll : Mori Kansai "peony" @c517Taisho Era "samurai Under Ume Tree" Japanese Hanging Scroll :signed Bansui W/boxJapanese Hanging Scroll "chained Monkey" @u208Japanese Hanging Scroll : Yamaoka Tesshu "calligraphy" @c522 Antique Chinese Blanc De Chine Statue Figure Of Woman Necklace & Small ScrollJapanese Hanging Scroll : Honnen "manjushri" @u206