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Woods and Valleys of Mount Yu

Ni Zan (Chinese, 1306–1374)

Yuan dynasty (1271–1368)
dated 1372
Hanging scroll; ink on paper
Image: 37 1/4 x 14 1/8 in. (94.6 x 35.9 cm) Overall with mounting: 82 x 20 5/8 in. (208.3 x 52.4 cm) Overall with knobs: 82 x 24 5/8 in. (208.3 x 62.5 cm)
Credit Line:
Ex coll.: C. C. Wang Family, Gift of The Dillon Fund, 1973
Accession Number:
  • Description

    In 1366, Ni Zan abandoned his home to escape marauding soldiers. Even after the establishment of the Ming dynasty in 1368, Ni continued the life of a wanderer, visiting old haunts that he had not seen for twenty or thirty years. According to his epitaph writer, Zhou Nanlao (1308–1383), "in his late years, he became quieter and more withdrawn than ever. Having lost or given away everything he ever owned, he did his best to forget his worries. Wearing a yellow [Daoist] cap and country clothes, he roamed the lakes and mountains, leading a recluse's life."

    Woods and Valleys of Mount Yu, executed two years before Ni Zan's death, expresses the painter's contentment in the life of a recluse. The poem ends with the lines:

    We watch the clouds and daub with our brushes
    We drink wine and write poems.
    The joyous feelings of this day
    Will linger long after we have parted.

    The dry but tender brushwork is aloof and restrained. There is a tranquil luminous quality about the painting that makes it one of the most fully realized works of the artist's later years.


    Artist’s inscription and signature (6 columns in standard script, dated 1372)

    Chen Fan (active mid-2nd c.) prepared a bed
    Only when Xu Ru (active mid-2nd c.) came for a visit.
    The water from the well in Yan You’s [Yan Yan, zi Ziyou, 506 B.C.-?] neighborhood [in Changshu] is sweet and cool,
    Whereas Yuzhong's [Ji Zhongyong, 12th c. B.C.] shrine [on Mount Yu] is desolate from neglect.
    We watch the clouds and daub with our brushes;
    We drink wine and write poems.
    The joyous feelings of this day
    Will linger long after we have parted. [1]

    On the thirteenth of the twelfth lunar month of the xinhai year [January 19, 1372], I paid a visit to the lofty hermit Bowan and painted the Woods and Valleys of Mount Yu with a poem in five-character lines as a memento of this trip. Ni Zan


    Other inscriptions

    1. Xiang Yuanbian 項元汴 (1525–90), inventory character:
    Qi 豈

    2. Qianlong Emperor 乾隆帝 (r. 1736–95), 8 columns in semi-cursive script (dated 1759):

    Collectors’ seals

    1. Xiang Yuanbian 項元汴 (1525–90)
    Molin miwan 墨林秘玩
    Xiang Zijing jia zhencang 項子京家珍藏
    Xiang Yuanbian yin 項元汴印
    Xiang Molin jianshang zhang 項墨林鑑賞章
    Tuimi 退密
    Zuili 檇李
    Ruoshui Xuan 若水軒
    Shenyou xinshang 神游心賞

    2. Geng Zhaozhong 耿昭忠 (1640–86)
    Zhenmi 珍秘

    3. An Qi 安岐 (1683–ca. 1746)
    Yizhou jianshang 儀周鑑賞

    4. Qianlong Emperor 乾隆帝 (r. 1736–95)
    Shiqu baoji 石渠寶笈
    Qianlong yulan zhi bao 乾隆御覽之寶
    Qianlong jianshang 乾隆鑑賞
    Chunhua Xuan 淳化軒
    Chunhua Xuan tushu zhenmibao 淳化軒圖書珍秘寶
    Qianlong chenhan 乾隆宸翰
    Xintian Zhuren 信天主人
    Sanxi Tang jingjian xi 三希堂精鑑璽
    Yi zisun 宜子孫

    5. Chen Kuilin 陳夔麟 (1855–1928)
    Kuilin 夔麟

    6. Xu An 徐安 (20th century)
    Xu An 徐安

    7. Wang Jiqian 王季遷 (1907–2003)
    Jiqian xinshang 季遷心賞

    8. Tan Jing 譚敬 (1911–1991)
    Tan Jing 譚敬

    9. Zhang Heng 張珩 (1915–1961)
    Xiyi 希逸

    10. Unidentified:
    Zisun baozhi 子孫保之

    [1] Translation from Wen C. Fong, Beyond Representation: Chinese Painting and Calligraphy 8th–14th Century (New York, 1992), p. 490, modified.

  • See also
    In the Museum
    Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History