The different forms and styles of Chinese art evolved from the basic techniques of calligraphy. These then developed the Bamboo and Grass Orchid subjects.  Later the other “Gentlemen” of Plum blossom and Mum evolved.  Together, the four subjects or “Gentlemen” (or “Four Seasons”) became the important prototypes of the several Chinese Brush Painting styles.

Thus, “The Four Gentlemen” form the basis of all the complex styles of Chinese brush.


The “Four Gentlemen”

Plum Blossom – Symbol of the winter season – with its secret promise of renewal and rejuvenation – the perpetual continuity and hardiness of life


Grass Orchid – Symbol of the perennial Hope of Spring and the bright promise of spring itself, in its unity and modesty.


Bamboo – Symbol of summer season and its endurance, flexibility and perseverance.

The Bamboo is the symbol of China.


Chrysanthemum – Symbol of the autumn season, the triumphant in life, persistence, patience and fortitude.


Thos “Four Gentlemen” are formidable subjects however simple they may seem to the Western eye.  Mastery of these demands strict discipline, meticulous adherence to traditional brush stroke techniques, and subtle expression of spirit.  The artist’s objective is to follow form by expressing the personality of the subject – in an understated revelation of its inner essence.


Helpful hints for the Chinese brush artist


Know your subject.-  In order to paint with complete abandon, it is essential to know your subject.  Know how the buds form, how petals open and fall, how stamen are placed.  Study your subject, fall in love with it.


Be Surprising – Look for the unexpected.  Drink in the beauty that surrounds you. Let nature speak to you.  Study the buttercup, enlarge or intensify its spirit in your work.


Leave serious at the door of your studio – Delight in your painting.  Remember there is no one like you and no one else can express what you see.  Flaunt your individualism.


Let Spontaneity reign – Let your masterpiece be lively.  Let it dance.  Be brave.


Don’t worry about likeness – capture the essence of your subject.


Connect with your work – let feelings surge through your work. Be daring.




‘The Hsieh I (Depicting Idea in Chinese) painting style is one of the most dynamic forms of art.  Spontaneity, freedom, and honesty are the most important principles.  The painting is done without a sketch and the brush movement is completed in a simple, powerful and speedy way.  The artist is allowed no time to think, no chance to pretend, no room to hide, and no way to correct.  The painting becomes a direct extension of the artist’s mentality; it reveals the personality and experience of the artist in the most earnest way.


~ Ning Yeh, Ph.D, An Album of Chinese Brush Painting

By Linda Shearer

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