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    

Japanese Hanging Scroll : Mori Getsujo "autumn Scenery" W/box @g570Japanese Hanging Scroll : Mori Sosen "two Monkeys" @g528Japanese Hanging Scroll "white Hawk And Pine Tree" @g527Japanese Hanging Scroll : Sesshu Toyo "dragon" @g500Japanese Hanging Scroll : Tani Buncho "sansui Landscape" @g531Japanese Hanging Scroll : Kano Tanyu Morinobu "sparrows And Bamboo" @g480Japanese Tea Ceremony Scroll : Daitoku-ji Hashimoto Shojo "enso" W/box @g540Japanese Hanging Scroll : Watanabe Kazan "toad Sennin" @g553Unusual Vintage Chinese Tibet Hand Painted Guanyin Thangka Prayer Scroll Japanese Hanging Scroll : Kakei "iris And Rhododendron" @u502Chinese Hanging Scroll : 沈南蘋 / Shen Quan "roaring Tiger Under Pine Tree" @g577Japanese Scroll Painting By Shiko Munakata (japanese 1903-1975)Old Chinese Blanc De Chine Statue Of Standing Figure With ScrollJapanese Hanging Scroll : Otagaki Rengetsu "waka" @g514Seven Chinese Calligraphy Scroll Paintings Japanese Hanging Scroll : Kumagai Naohiko "crow And Maple Leaves" @g576Japanese Hanging Scroll: Antique "prowling Tiger" By Kishi Renzan, C.1835, Edo17th Or 18th Century Tibetan Thangka ScrollJapanese Hanging Scroll : Kodo "chickens And Flowers" @g508Japanese Hanging Scroll : Soga Shohaku "scenery" @g559Japanese Hanging Scroll "frog And Calligraphy" @u516Chinese Hanging Scroll "monkey King" @g484Japanese Hanging Scroll : Yanagisawa Kien "many Cranes On Seaside" @u561Japanese Hanging Scroll "kannon Bosatsu With Kindei" @g478Japanese Hanging Scroll : Mori Sosen "dancing Monkey" @g561Chinese Hanging Scroll "many Chicks" @g492Chinese Ancestral Portrait Scroll Painting Of FigureJapanese Hanging Scroll : Yamamoto Shunkyo "pine Tree And Sparrow" @g491Chinese Hanging Scroll "city Scenery" @g488Japanese Hanging Scroll : Tani Buncho "sansui Landscape" @g525Japanese Hanging Scroll : Fukuda Hanko "rainy Scenery" @g499Antique Chinese Scroll Scholar Landscape Painting Silk Signed Writing Painted Antique Chinese Scroll Painting Signed Calligraphy Cat With Blossoms Qing 61x24"Japanese Hanging Scroll : Takeuchi Seiho "rice Field Scenery" W/box @g521Chinese Hanging Scroll "spring Scenery" @u506Japanese Hanging Scroll : Nishio Koko "heian Beauty In Snow" @g563Japanese Hanging Scroll : Hirai Baisen "waterfall" W/box @g539Japanese Hanging Scroll : Takahashi Sohei "snow Scenery" W/box @g546Japanese Hanging Scroll : Yokoyama Seiki "pine Tree" @g550Japanese Hanging Scroll : Yoshida Kokin "hundred Of Monkeys" @g512Japanese Hanging Scroll "nitta Yoshisada" @g554Japanese Hanging Scroll : Hishida Shunso "egret And Flowers" @g517Superb Signed & Sealed Vintage Chinese Painting Calligraphy ScrollJapanese Hanging Scroll : Reiji "white Peony" @g506Japanese Hanging Scroll "dragon" @g509Japanese Hanging Scroll : Untei "rising Dragon Over Mt.fuji" @g565Japanese Hanging Scroll : Kishi Renzan "mt.fuji" @g494Japanese Big Hanging Scroll : Tani Buncho "waterside Scenery" @u527Three Chinese Scroll Paintings Unusual Vintage Chinese Tibet Hand Painted Buddha Thangka Prayer Scroll PaintingSigned & Sealed Vintage Chinese Painting Calligraphy Scroll - AnotatedTea Ceremony Scroll : Daitoku-ji Kobayashi Taigen "calligraphy" W/box @g503Chinese Hanging Scroll "sitting Man And Beauties" @g547Japanese Woodblock Print Scroll : Utagawa Toyokuni "figure Painting" @g551Chinese Scroll Painting Of Basket Of Flowers With WritingChinese Scroll Painting Of Figures In A LandscapeJapanese Hanging Scroll : Yamamoto Baiitsu "scenery" W/box @g572Japanese Hanging Scroll : Hoko "beautiful Flowers" @g482Japanese Hanging Scroll : Kusumi Morikage "mt.fuji Scenery" @g564Japanese Hanging Scroll : Kano Doshun "jurojin" @g519