A typically traditional literati painting observes certain rules:
1. accurate lines,
2. powerful brush movements,
3. contrast gradations of ink,
4. interplay between dark and light, and
5. painted and unpainted space.
These are all considered necessary in order to bring out the harmony and vitality of nature. This time-tested tradition has prevailed over the thousand year history of Chinese literati painting.
One of the most appealing qualities of literati paintings is their sense of humor. Paintings of animals are particularly likely to be done for delight. The animals may be pets. They may have personified expressions. They may symbolize an event or idea meaningful to the artist and the recipient of the painting.
Animals were also common subjects for artists of the Court Academy in ancient times. Favorite animals for painting can be divided into two categories: horses, cows, water-buffalo, cats and dogs are domesticated and render certain services at home, in the field or to the emperors and the court. The second group are wild animals: monkeys, deer, tigers, lions, rabbits, etc. Ancient court painters and literati have thrown recent artists a challenge and artists are still trying their hand at showing animals in new ways.
Stylistic changes have gone through transformations from literal rendering of the appearance of subjects in their natural activities and habits to simpler techniques such as "idea painting" and sketching. The latter is especially favored by literati artists who wish to catch the essential spirit of the subjects with a minimum number of strokes. Freedom for creative skill and expression is endless.
--Charles Chu (1918-2008)
Curator and Professor Emeritus, Connecticut College
Please click on the linked images below to see some of the highlights of the collection together with explanatory text from Professor Chu. For an extensive selection of animal images in the collection, see the animal section in the Connecticut College Visual Resources Library gallery.
1923 - 1987
1925 - 1996
1907 - 1989
1918 - 1983