Art State of Mind

Wind and Fun: Kites in Art

Sarah Mills 15 June 2023 min Read

So far we’ve had balloons and celestial bodies as part of this series. Now we move to kites as our flying objects in art, but where do we start? There are so many examples! Probably best, therefore, to start at the beginning.

Kites in Art: Kite-Flying at Hai-kwan on the Ninth Day of Ninth Moon
Arthur Willmore & Thomas Allom, Kite-Flying at Hai-kwan on the Ninth Day of Ninth Moon, from China, in a Series of Views, Displaying the Scenery, Architecture, and Social Habits, of That Ancient Empire, Rev. G. N. Wright, 1843. HubPages.

Kite flying is in fact thousands of years old and hasn’t always been associated with carefree summer days and colorful kite festivals. The first documented reports of kite flying are from Ancient China during the Han Dynasty (206 BCE–220 CE), where they were used in a military capacity, for example, to aid the calculation of distance between one point and another. They were also used to deliver important messages, and sometimes (in a non-military capacity) to deliver romantic ones! The activity of kite flying was slowly disseminated via trade routes to other countries.

Kites in Art: Suzuki Harunobu, Woodblock Print of Kite Flying
Suzuki Harunobu, Woodblock Print of Kite Flying, 1766, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY, USA. Museum’s Website.

By the 7th century, kites had arrived in Japan. Here they were initially used by Buddhist monks to ward off evil spirits or to bring good fortune, but it wasn’t until some considerable time later – during the Edo Period (1603–1868) – that kite flying became accessible to the lower classes (those below Samurai). After that, it quickly became a national pastime.

Kites in Art: Rider with a Dragon Kite, Bellifortis,Konrad Kyeser
Konrad Kyeser, Rider with a Dragon Kite, Bellifortis, Clm 30150 fol 91v, early 16th century. Medievalists.

The use of kites for both practical and playful reasons spread out through Asia, eventually arriving in Medieval Europe. The image above depicts a rider using a dragon kite as a means to terrify the enemy. This and other interesting technologies of warfare can be found in Konrad Kyeser’s Bellifortis, which is an illustrated manual of military technology. In China, flying kites continued to be used for measuring distance, sending signals, and even carrying men, but also for fun. They were also used for kite fishing in Malaysia and kite fighting in India!

Kites in Art: Leonardo da Vinci, Ornithopter
Kites in art: Leonardo da Vinci, Ornithopter, 1488. Encyclopaedia Britannica.

Leonardo da Vinci was famous first and foremost as an artist, but he was also an inventor. Above is an image of what is essentially a hang glider. Like a kite, a hang glider relies on the careful reading of air currents and thermal updraughts in order to remain in the air (especially important if you happen to be in one at the time). Was Da Vinci inspired by the kites of his time?

Kites in Art: Justus de Gelder, Boys Flying Kites
Justus de Gelder, Boys Flying Kites, 1650–1707, Upton House Collection, Warwickshire, UK. Wikimedia Commons (public domain).

Flying kites provide endless fascination for children and adults alike. In the painting above by Netherlandish painter Justus de Gelder (1650–c. 1707) a group of boys are having maximum fun with their kites.

Kites in Art: Benjamin West, Benjamin Franklin Drawing Electricity from the Sky
Benjamin West, Benjamin Franklin Drawing Electricity from the Sky, c. 1816, Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia, PA, USA. Museum’s Website.

Kites, as we have seen, were already being used from very early on in a scientific capacity, but what about capacitors? Of course, we all know that a capacitor stores electrical energy, and kites may have had a hand in helping to discover this. Benjamin Franklin (1706–1790) was a pioneer in this field, credited with inventing the first ‘electrical battery’ in 1748. His experiments with all things electrical were wide-ranging: above we see a Romantic painting of him flying a kite instead of using a lightning rod, c.1752, in order to prove that lightning is electrical.

Kites in Art: Francisco Goya, La Cometa
Francisco Goya, La Cometa, 1777, Prado Museum, Madrid, Spain. Museum’s Website.

Above is an image of another group of people having fun flying kites, this time La Cometa by Francisco Goya (1746–1828). It seems a very light-hearted subject for Goya, but perhaps this is because it is a tapestry cartoon (a painting designed to be woven) and is one of sixty-three such cartoons produced as commissions for two consecutive Kings of Spain (Charles III and Charles IV) between 1775 and 1791.

Kites in Art: Uttam Manna, Bull And Kite
Uttam Manna, Bull and Kite, 2016, private collection. Mojarto.

Next, the unlikely spectacle of a bull fighting with a kite. The kite above should be on the losing side, but it has done such a good job of entangling the bull that the poor animal appears to have sat down, glowering in defeat. The kite wins!

Kites in Art: Miho Ichise, Kite
Miho Ichise, Kite, 2017. Artist’s Instagram.

An ordinary kite exudes freedom, and if we are lucky, reminds us of childhood when all we needed to do was worry about whether or not the glue would hold our home-made efforts together in the breeze. The painting above seems so dark, but there is a strip of sunlight in the foreground. It is as though we are simply waiting for the clouds to pass.

Kites in Art: Debbie Criswell, Kite Day
Debbie Criswell, Kite Day, 2018. Fine Art America.

This is a good kite painting to end on. The long shadows make it feel like early evening in the summer: long hot days; the gradual onset of night. The girl flying the kite is barefoot, cooling her feet in the grass as her dress blows gently forward in the breeze. The red of the dress and the red of the kite draw attention to the joy of flying, and in such an idyllic setting. Happiness on a canvas!

Get your daily dose of art

Click and follow us on Google News to stay updated all the time


Art State of Mind

4 European Events Harmonizing Art, Nature, and Techno Music

Techno and electronic music have always shared an intimate relationship with art, intertwining rhythms, beats, and melodies with visual expressions...

Celia Leiva Otto 30 May 2024

Art State of Mind

10 Gift Ideas from 10 Museums Around the World

If you are struggling with inspiration for great gifts, do not fret! DailyArt Magazine is here to help. Today, we will go around the world looking...

Joanna Kaszubowska 11 January 2024

Art State of Mind

Christmas Cards Made by Artists

One of the most cherished Christmas traditions is the exchange of cards, a practice rooted in the early 19th century when John Callcott Horsley made...

Andreea Iancu 7 February 2024

john singer sargent capri Art State of Mind

We Love Museums! Discover the Best Spots Local to Our Staff and Contributors

Can you believe it? DailyArt Magazine is turning seven! To celebrate this exciting milestone, we asked our incredible staff and talented contributors...

Ania Kaczynska 12 July 2023