The Rongxi Studio (容膝齋圖)
Ni Zan (倪瓚, 1301-1374), Yuan Dynasty (1279-1368)
Hanging scroll, ink on paper, 74.7 x 35.5 cm, National Palace Museum, Taipei
Ni Zan (style name Yuanzhen 元鎮; sobriquets Yunlin 雲林, Yuweng 迂翁) was a native of Wuxi (無錫), Jiangsu (江蘇). Son of a wealthy merchant, he was a bibliophile, collector, poet and painter. He remained aloof of any official commitment and spent the later part of his life wandering the streams and lakes of his native province. He was one of the Four Great Masters of the Yuan, along with Huang Gongwang (黄公望, 1269-1354), Wu Zhen (吴镇, 1280-1354), and Wang Meng (王蒙, 1308 – 1385).
This work was done by Ni Zan in 1372, at the age of 71. The colophon states that the painting was first given to Ni’s friend, Bo-xuan (檗軒), who kept it for two years and then gave it to his physician-friend Zhong-ren (仲仁), who asked the artist to inscribe a poem. Rongxi Studio was the residence of the physician, so the painting was done before the inscription was later added. The brushwork is especially bland and refined, with tonal variations in the trees most carefully built up. An upright brush with point-centered energy has been employed more often than a slanted brush, and broken hemp-fiber strokes are more frequent than washes in the modeling of the rocks.