Painting or Embroidery?

Education | 26 Feb 2021

Some Chinese artists use needle and thread to replace brush and ink to create paintings on silk and the Shanghai-based Gu family embroidery is among one of the most sought-after.

As a special commodity, silk always has a special meaning for the Chinese people. In addition to clothing, silk has also been the surface for handscroll painting for a long time and they even have the kesi-tapestry painting.

Greater gradation of colors can be achieved with the split silk filaments. The stitches blur the lines, making it less distinct than paint on paper. Thus, a sense of deception is evoked, making viewers wonder what is a painting and what is an embroidery.

The Gu family belonged to the elite class and some of the ladies were known for excelling in embroidery especially Han Ximeng, also dubbed “Needle Saint”. Han, the wife of one of the Gu family members, was even praised by well-known artist-cum-politician Dong Qichang. Different from other embroidery styles, which are more like craftworks, the Gu embroidery specialized in painting and calligraphy and had some famous artworks as the motifs.

Masterpieces of the Song and Yuan Dynasties (1628-44) by Han, a collection of the Palace Museum, is an example. Leaf three of this album features a meticulous depiction of a lady doing embroidery. Her hands and face are especially highlighted to show the dexterity of her fingers and to establish her beautiful and intelligent image.

More textile artworks can be seen at HKU's art museum including Chinese couplets and auspicious images.


When: Till May 30

Where: Pictorial Skills: Chinese Textiles from the UMAG Collection, University Museum and Art Gallery, The University of Hong Kong

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