Wang Meng and Ni Zan, along with Huang Gongwang (1269-1354) and Wu Zhen (1280-1354), were designated as the 'Four Great Masters of Yuan Painting' by the renowned Ming statesman and art theorist, Dong Qichang (1555-1636). During the waning years of the Yuan dynasty both Wang Meng and Ni Zan rejected any political and military involvement in the government and refused to serve under the rebel leader, Zhang Shicheng who occupied Suzhou at the end of the Yuan dynasty. Their resulting disengagement from society and longing for a simpler, more peaceable world are captured in their extremely self-expressive landscapes.
The present painting is unique in that it represents a purported collaboration between the two masters, Wang Meng and Ni Zan. According to the inscriptions, the scholar figure was painted by the former and the surrounding landscape by the latter 'in order to make something tasteful for future conversation.' The artist has managed to sucessfully capture Ni Zan’s characteristic sketchy and monochromatic brushwork, as well as his manner of composition which places much emphasis on the foreground. Moreover, because Ni Zan's landscape paintings are almost always devoid of figures and buildings, the present painting offers a poignant glimpse of the artist himself within one of his own cool visions of landscape.
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