Chinese tea culture came into being at the height of the Tang Dynasty, and Chinese tea paintings began to appear at about the same time. However, tea paintings of this time, like other drinking banquet paintings or recreation paintings, just displayed tea drinking and did not form art works showing the special essence of tea. In The Book of Tea by Lu Yu, there were tea paintings, but they mainly displayed the process of brewing tea so that people could know more about tea. In a sense, they were simply like advertisements of new food- But many poets and calligraphers among tea drinkers, headed by Lu Yu, made many beautifully conceived poems in tea parties. This aroused later generation to associate between art and tea and made later painters and calligraphers meditate on art works more deeply.
Xiao Yi Wrangles Over the Masterpiece of Calligraphy Lan Ting by Strategy by Yan Liben in the Tang Dynasty is the earliest drinking tea together. On the right, the monks and Confucianist are talking about Buddhism and Confucianism as they wait for the tea. On tbe left, two servants, one old and the other young, are brewing tea single-mindedly. The old servant is putting the teapot on the stove and brewing tea elaborately, while the young one is holding a bowl, waiting to present the brewed tea to his master. With the expressions of the characters being true to life, the painting is meticulously drawn, reflecting the simple way that the lower-level Confucianists and monks drank tea. It set a good precedent in it that tea painting should not only display the material life of tea brewing and drinking, but should mainly express some thought. The painting is pregnant with the meaning that the Confucianst and Buddhists talked about doctrine as they drank tea. It shows that talking about tea was more important than brewing tea.
The painting Auspiciousness and Happiness by Zhang Xuan displayed Emperor Minghuang of the Tang Dynasty drinking tea. In the painting, the emperor lies on his bed, with three maids of honor standing beside it. Another maid of honor is holding a teaset containing tea and fruit, and it appears that the emperor has just finished drinking tea and has ordered her to clear away the tea set. Judging from the tea sets, some specialists in tea think that this painting shows the way of making tea with loose tea in the early Tang Dynasty. But culturally, we pay more attention to the two words "Auspiciousness and Happiness," which was what the painter tried to express. The anonymous painting, Palace Music. shows the grand scene of imperial ladies drinking tea. In the palace is a luxury table, displaying liquor, a large utensil holding the tea, and a ladle to scoop out the tea. The maids of honor are all holding musical instruments,their foreheads broad and their jaws wide, their clothes beautiful, and their buns high. They sit on refined embroidered seats, some holding a bowl with both hands and drinking tea, others playing the four-stringed Chinese lute, Xiao (a vertical bamboo flute) or other ancient musical instruments. Some maids of honor are standing in attendance,while a cat is lying under the table. It can be seen from the viewpoint of tea culture that tea and liquor did not interfere with each other, but the main content of the painting is the combination of tea with recreation. Other tea paintings of the Tang Dynasty, according to documents, include the painting Brewing Tea and the painting Figures of Ladies Brewing Tea, but unfortunately they have been lost.
Overall, during the Tang Dynasty, which was the pioneering stage of tea paintings, painters depicted the details and scenes of tea brewing and drinking concretely and minutely, but they did not show the spiritual connotation of tea in any depth. After all, this opened up a new field for tea culture. By visible artistic means, people not only realized the effects of tea, but also began to heed its spiritual experience.
From the Five Dynasties to the Song Dynasty, tea paintings were rich in content. They displayed either large tea banquets of palaces and officialdom, or scholars drinking tea in their studies, or the common people appraising and drinking tea. As most were painted by famous painters, the artistry of tea painting was further raised. Among them are many rare works of a high order, and more than ten of them are used for textual research.
The painting Han Ximi Attending an Evening Banquet, painted by Gu Hongzhong during the Five Dynasties, depicts a large tea banquet. In it there are many vivid figures, who are drinking as women are dancing. Two maidservants are holding plates, on which the utensils look much like those in the painting Auspiciousness and Happiness, Therefore, some people think that at die banquet people drank both tea and liquor.
Zhao Ji, Emperor Huizong of the Northern Song Dynasty, though not good at ruling his state, was a rare artist. He had a good knowledge of chess, calligraphy, paintings, and qin (a seven-stringed plucked instrument in some ways similar to the zither). He specially liked tea art. His painting Scholars. Gathering is universally thought to depict a tea banquet. In a noble garden with a pool, mountain stones and willows, there is a big square table, on which are fruit, refreshments, and tea. Around the table are more than ten scholars. At the lower comer on the left some servants are brewing tea, with glass tea sets, the stove, and the big baste for storing tea sets for future use, clear and recognizable. Behind lea table, between flowers and trees, is another table,on which there are an incense burner and a qin. This showed that scholars had made tea drinking elegant, not excluding music on the lute and the fragrance of flowers.
In terms of achievements in art, the tea paintings by Liu Songnian in the Southern Song Dynasty take the first place. His paintings handed down to us include Rumpling Tea (showing the tea art of the Song Dynasty), Gambling Market in the Tea Plantation, and Lu Tong Brewing Tea. The last two paintings, in particular, have both profound implications and are great achievements in art, setting an example to later generations.
The painting Gambling Market in the Tea Plantation depicts the appraisal of tea among common people. In it all the people, old and young, including women and children, have vivid expressions. The scene of appraisal of tea in a tea producing area is full of life. On the left a woman with a child is selling tea in her basket; in the middle a pedlar, with two baskets of tea on Ms shoulder pole, is also selling tea; on the right gamblers are appraising tea, which is the main theme of the painting. On either basket containing tea and teases on an old man's shoulder pole is a tag,on which is written, "First-Class River Tea." Old men, women and children all focus their attention on those appraising tea on the right, a detail which makes the theme "appraising tea" more prominent. The people appraising tea all have teasets. They match each other for good tea, showing great concern for the result. This painting shows the appraisal of tea among common people in the Song Dynasty. Vivid, detailed, and true to life, it is both a masterpiece of art and a precious reference material for the study of the history of tea drinking.
The painting Lu Tong Brewing Tea, another tea painting by Liu Songnian, is vividly painted according to a poem on drinking tea written by Lu Tong, a poet during the Tang Dynasty. The painting some scholars, who are drinking tea under the moon by mountain stones and bamboo bushes in the field. It mainly reflects the experience and happiness of people drinking tea. It deserves to be particularly noted, for it is a portrayal of tea art which approaches nature.
It can be seen from the tea paintings by Liu Songnian that in the Southern Song Dynasty tea culture influenced all walks of life and further increased its social effects.
In the Song Dynasty there were other paintings reflecting scholars drinking tea in their studies. For example, in the anonymous painting Characters, a scholar sits up straight in his study, where books and paintings are placed on the desk, flowers are arranged in the middle, and a stove is put on the right. With the charcoal fire roaring,a child servant is working on the boiling tea. It is truly a leisurely and elegant scene.
The painting Children Playing in Spring by Su Hanchen of the Song Dynasty, shows many children tuning the qin, practicing calligraphy, playing games, and tasting tea. It has the rich flavor of life and implies the children's friendship.
In all, the Song Dynasty ushered in an epoch of tea paintings of great achievement.
In the Ming and Yuan dynasties, tea culture had two characteristics. One was that it had deeper philosophic thinking, advocating agreement with nature and blending with mountains and waters, heaven and earth, and the cosmos. The other was that tea drinking among common people was developed, and that the friendship and harmony of tea drinkers deeply influenced all manner of people. Excellent tea paintings in the Yuan and Ming dynasties also reflected these two aspects. However, in contrast. painters at that time paid more attention to the connotation of tea paintings than to techniques of tea culture. This conforms with the overall trend in the development of Chinese tea culture. After the Yuan and Ming dynasties, the Chinese feudal culture became mature, and social and ideological conflicts became sharper, making tea painting sat that time more profound.
Zhao Mengfu, a famous painter in the Yuan Dynasty, painted the painting Appraising Tea after the painting Gambling Market in the Tea Plantation by Liu Songnian in the Song Dynasty. The former attached more importance to the theme of appraising tea, delved other figures, and displayed the psychology of the four central figures in the latter by painting them in minute detail. In the painting, Lu Yu Tasting Tea, by Zhao Yuan, we see that unlike people in the Tang and Song dynasties who drank tea in studies, courtyards or palaces, people drank tea in mountains or fields, which reflected their broad minds. The anonymous painting Compatriots with One Mind in the Yuan Dynasty shows some lovely children drinking tea and baking stuffed buns, and is full of meaning.
In the Ming Dynasty, Zhu Quan, the 17th son of Zhu Yuanzhang, Emperor Taizu, developed Chinese tea art, and became a main representative of naturalistic tea drinkers. Owing to political frustration and complicated conflicts, he became a hermit and devoted himself to founding the naturalistic tea ceremony. Since then, frustrated scholars have followed him. Among them were and painters. For example, the painting Brewing Tea in Yuchuan by Ding Yunpeng depicts the scene of tasting tea on a mountain stone beside banana trees under bamboos. Wen Zhengming and Tang Yin (Bohu) of the "four outstanding people in Wuzhong" during the reign of Emperor Jiajing, all painted high-level tea paintings. Wen Zhengming's paintings-Lu Yu Brewing Tea, Tasting Tea, and Tea Gathering in the Huishan Mountain-all stress hiding in high mountains and jungles, while Tang Yin's painting Qin Player and two paintings entitled Tasting Tea are clear, grandiose and varied. All these are rare wc?ts in the history of tea paintings.
In the Ming Dynasty, many scholars painted tea paintings, tasted tea in their studies, or drank tea together in bridal chambers. All these reflected certain living conditions and the wide use of tea among common scholars, but, compared with Tang Yin, Wen Zhengming and other master-hands, they are not worth mentioning ideologically or artistically. However, many illustrations in the collected works and novels of the Ming Dynasty, such as the painting of tasting tea in the courtyard, the painting of a lady tasting tea in her boudoir, the painting of tasting tea on a boat in a river with green lotus leaves, reflect the vivid tea culture and the broad social walks of life who engaged in it. The painting Sweeping Away Snow and Brewing Tea in the novel The Plum in the Golden Vase depicts figures and the scene vividly.
In the Qing Dynasty there were also many tea paintings. Since the ways of making tea were then popular, tea paintings at that time attached importance to teacups and teapots and scenes with a view to reflecting social life rather than the details of brewing tea. In particular, tea paintings at the height of the period, when Kangxi and Qianlong were on the throne, mainly reflected harmony and liveliness. For example, the painting Spring Market at Peace by Ding Guanpeng during the reign of Qianlong depicts some even-tempered scholars, who are tasting fragrant tea on zisha tea sets by pine and plum trees on a broad and beautiful carpet of green grass, and an old man selling tea and fruit passing by with two baskets on Ms shoulder pole. The painting Enjoying the Moon by Leng Mei in the Qing Dynasty shows enjoying the moon and tasting tea in the garden- Tea drinking among common people in the Qing Dynasty was also very popular, a fact reflected in
paintings by common people. For example, Yangliuqing woodcuts portray ladies playing cards while tasting tea. Besides this type of work, paintings on appraising tea after Liu Songnian's works and books on the art of tea painting by Mr. Yu Chuan (Lu Tong) were often seen.
In the period of the Republic of China (1912-1949), civic tea culture was practiced on a large scale, and art works on teahouses I naturally followed. Tea paintings in books on the art of painting, as well as tea illustrations in novels, were nothing new.
Generally, since the Tang Dynasty, tea was a major subject of painters, who produced many noteworthy works. The special character of tea made it an important way for painters to express their thoughts and feelings. These tea paintings simultaneously inspired tea culture itself, reflecting tea art and tea ceremony in visible forms and deepening peopled understanding of its inner secret.