Wind among the Trees on the Riverbank, dated 1363
Ni Zan (Chinese, 1306–1374)
Hanging scroll, ink on paper; 23 1/4 x 12 1/4 in. (59.1 x 31.1 cm)
Bequest of John M. Crawford Jr., 1988 (1989.363.39)
Forced to flee his hometown of Wuxi in Jiangsu Province to escape extortionary tax collectors, Ni Zan led a refugee's life between 1356 and 1366, residing with his family southwest of Suzhou at a place he nicknamed Snail's Hut. Compared to his Wuxi days, this was a wrenching change, but the family was able to settle down to an existence of "simple sustenance, harmony, and happiness." Ni's paintings and calligraphy from this period are more assured and relaxed; consequently, they sometimes appear sketchy—a quality the artist consciously sought.
Because Ni Zan painted virtually the same composition his entire life—a grove of trees on a rocky foreground shore juxtaposed with distant mountains—the subtle variations in each iteration reveal changes in his circumstances and state of mind. This desolate landscape, done for a fellow scholar-artist, Yu Kan, undoubtedly reflects Ni's bereavement at the recent death of his wife and his growing sense of isolation. His inscription reads:
On the riverbank the evening tide begins to fall;
The frost-covered leaves of the windblown grove are sparse.
I lean on my staff—the brushwood gate is closed and silent;
I think of my friend—the glow is nearly gone from the hills.