``One should learn from nature and paint the image in one's mind.'' No, this is not the credo of a Western impressionist but of Zhang Zao, an eighth-century Chinese painter. Anyone familiar with the ethereal nature of the landscape painting, the delicacy of bird, branch, and flower in pen-and-ink drawings, will recognize the influence of Zhang Zao's notion in Chinese painting. As Barnhart, an art historian at Yale, and his collaborators (several of them on the staff of the Palace Museum in Beijing) show, this artistic tradition has its origins in the Asian equivalent of the Lascaux cave paintings, dating back to the Neolithic era. The history of this exceptional art, its practitioners and their technique, and the metaphorical significance attributed to the artworks are all discussed in illuminating detail, ending with the contemporary neoclassical works that draw on tradition but add a modern flavor. The text is accompanied by 300 fine color and 25 black-and-white reproductions of extraordinary works, many never before available in the West. Consider this the Janson's of Chinese painting.