Starting from the Ming dynasty (1368-1644), painting often became distinguished into local schools that formed important clusters in the history of art. The styles of "Wu School" artists led by Shen Zhou (沈周) in the Suzhou area, for example, were based on the cultivated approaches of scholar painting by the Four Yuan Masters. The "Zhe School" led by Dai Jin (戴進) consisted mostly of painters from the Zhejiang and Fujian areas; also active at court, they created a direct and liberated manner of monochrome ink painting based on Southern Song models.
The late Ming master Dong Qichang (董其昌) from Songjiang and the Four Wangs, namely Wang Shimin (王時敏), Wang Jian (王鑑), Wang Hui (王翬), and Wang Yuanqi (王原祁) of the early Qing dynasty (1644-1911) adopted the lofty literati goal of unifying certain ancient styles into a "grand synthesis" so that all in mind and nature could be rendered with brush and ink. The result was the vastly influential "Orthodox School", which was supported by the Manchu Qing emperors and was in contrast to a group of Individualist painters, mainly Zhu Da (朱耷) and Shitao (石濤). The court also took an interest in Western painting techniques (brought by European missionaries) that involved volume and perspective, which became known to and used by some Chinese painters to create a fused style. Outside the court, the major commercial city of Yangzhou in Jiangsu developed the trend toward individualism to become a center for "eccentric" yet professional painters, such as Zheng Xie (鄭燮). It also spread to Shanghai, where the styles of artists like Ren Bonian (任伯年) and Wu Changshuo (吳昌碩) were also inspired by "non-orthodox" manners, which themselves became models for later artists, for example Qi Baishi (齊白石).
Thus, throughout the ages, a hallmark of Chinese painting has been the pursuit of individuality and innovation within the framework of one's "symphonic" heritage. The painting galleries at China Online Museum represent a selection of individual "performances" in order to provide an overview of some major traditions and movements in Chinese painting.