How to Read Chinese Paintings Maxwell K. Hearn

The Metropolitan Museum of Art - How to Read
Publication date:
01 Aug 2008
Metropolitan Museum of Art
184 pages: 305 x 235mm
175 color illus., including 1 map


The Chinese often use the expression du hua, “to read a painting,” in connection with their study and appreciation of such works. This volume closely “reads” thirty-six masterpieces of Chinese painting from the encyclopedic collection of The Metropolitan Museum of Art in order to reveal the major characteristics and themes of this rich pictorial tradition. The book examines multiple layers of meaning—style, technique, symbolism, past traditions, and the artist’s personal circumstances—through accessible texts and numerous large color details. A dynastic chronology, map, and list of further readings supplement the text.


Spanning a thousand years of Chinese art, these landscapes, flowers, birds, figures, religious subjects, and calligraphies illuminate the main goal of every Chinese artist: to capture not only the outer appearance of a subject but also its inner essence. 

Maxwell K. Hearn is Douglas Dillon Curator, Department of Asian Art, The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

"Ingeniously conceived as a manual for those unfamiliar with or daunted by Chinese painting, this volume offers splendid photographic details of thirty-six works of painting and calligraphy in the permanent collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. . . . Hearn invokes the literati practice of 'reading a painting' (du hua), imbuing the learning process with a balance between intellectual gravitas and playful enjoyment."—Nixi Cura, Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies