Many people may find that there is a problem in the composition of the painting above. The foreground and the background are of the same tone. They think that in a landscape painting, the foreground should be darker whereas the background should be paler in tone.
As this is a painting of Zhang Daqian (張大千 1899-1983), one of the most influential Chinese artists of the century, no one will say that the composition is wrong. This painting was sold at 34,260,000 HKD in a recent auction by Sotheby’s Hong Kong. However, if the painting is the work of a novice, people will criticize the same ink and color tone of the foreground and the background.
I modified the image of the painting to see how it looks like by inserting a piece of tracing paper over the background section. The effect is as follows.
Effect 1 – inserting a tracing paper over the whole background section:
Effect 2 – One more piece of tracing paper was added to the very top mountains of the background:
Which picture look better ? The original one or the modified ones with the background made paler?
I think that the original one is much better. To me there is no need to make the background paler. There is a continuity of the yun (氣韻) or spirit.
Moreover, Zhang kept the ink and colour tone of the mountains throughout the whole painting to vividly depict the sensation of waterfalls tumbling down from the top of the mountains. If he made the top part paler, it would decrease the dynamic of the waterfalls and the magnificence of the high mountains.
Of course, this is my personal view and people can make their own judgement.
An inspiring painting of Kun Can
The painting of Kun Can (1612-1692) below had inspired Zhang Daqian. The composition of Zhang’s Empty valley and cloudy peak is quite similar to Kun Can’s work. Kun Can also kept the ink tone more or less the same throughout the layers and layers of mountains.
Other examples from old masters
The following famous paintings also show that the foreground and the background are of the same tone.
The information about the auction of Zhang Daqian, 1945, Empty valley and cloudy peak was sourced from the internet.