Ni Zan : Classical Chinese Painter

ni zan (1301-1374) is regarded as one of the four masters of Chinese landscape painting during the Yüan (Mongol) dynasty. Originally a wealthy landowner, he spent the latter part of his life living on houseboats wandering around the lakes and rivers of Songjiang and Suzhou, sometimes staying with literati friends. There is an article on him by Jane Dwight in the July 2009 issue of the Newsletter of the Chinese Brush Painters Society, and he is the speaker of the following monologue taken from The Portrait Gallery by Sebastian Hayes (Brimstone Press, 2008).

On the Great Lakes        

My works are colourless, the outlines clear
But never bold, dry, even strokes; the scene

Is much the same, a bank with mainly leafless trees,
Stretches of open water, in the distance, hills;
The season, autumn (though it might be early spring);
Mid-morning; human shapes never appear, at most
A makeshift shelter in the foreground with a roof of reeds
Made by a passing traveller; no wind,
The very slightest flutter at the tips of trees,
But at ground level nothing, even a rowing-boat
Would mar the perfect stillness and the silence…
Rain; the sound of it agreeable, light rain
Coming in from the south, my travelling-boat
Rocks idly in the creek, securely moored;
Behind me dark land-masses, misty peaks,
Bent pine and tangled scrub; Ma Yüan’s scrolls

Reach out towards the indistinct but mine do not,
All is contained and definite, hillsides rise up
And lakes are bright with water, always, endlessly

                                                                                    Sebastian Hayes