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Riverside Pavilion and Mountain Hues (江亭山色圖)

Ni Zan (倪瓚, 1301–1374), Yuan Dynasty (1271–1368)

Hanging scroll, ink on paper, 94.7 x 43.7 cm, National Palace Museum, Taipei

       This painting from the year 1372 is inscribed with Ni Zan’s own poetry. Done for his friend Huanbo (煥伯), it is a typical example of the “Three Perfections” of painting, poetry, and calligraphy in a single work. The composition here is more complex than in Ni’s earlier works, skillfully intersecting the slopes and branches to lead the viewer’s eye into the remote distance for a sense of desolation in autumn woods. Despite the independent appearance of dots, washes, texturing, and brush scrubbing on the paper, all come together as a cohesive whole. Complemented by dry ink and desiccated textures using a slanted brush, it creates for an atmosphere of clarity, brittleness, desolation, and high antiquity—a reflection almost of Ni Zan’s own obsession with cleanliness. Pouring forth with ease, these qualities form a marvelous truth that make this a masterpiece of Ni’s late years.