Ni Zan
The Art History Archive - Chinese Art

Chinese Painter

By Brandi Leigh - 2008.

Ni Zan is considered to be one of the ten most famous artists of ancient China.

Ni Zan was born into a wealthy family in the Jiangsu province of China in 1301. Because of his families wealth, he could afford to go to school and get a good education that was uncommon at that time. When his father passed away at a very young age, his older brother took his place as the man in the family, who greatly influenced Zan. Growing up his life was fairly easy, he would spend his days reciting poetry and painting while traveling and conversing with other artists.

Then, in the 1340s droughts and floods caused famine in the region where Zan lived so he distributed all of his possessions to his friends and moved onto a houseboat. He spent his days drifting around and painting the landscapes of China as he passed by. As his luck would have it, he left the day before the Red Turban Revolt and was able to travel throughout the relatively peaceful southeast while various revolutionary parties tore through his old home. During Zanís lifetime, his work was highly valued and it itself was enough to pay for the anything he would need during his travels. He returned to his hometown in 1371 after the Ming Dynasty came into power. He passed away in 1374, only three years after returning to his home

Zanís painting technique saw the use of black ink that was applied with slanted sharp tipped brushes, with intermittent light and heavy strokes to create texture.

Most of Zanís landscapes were of tall trees in the foreground, lakes or meadows in the middle and mountains in the distance. He was the first artist to provide a caption in the corner of the painting to connect the scenery to the actual message. Zan created many famous bamboo paintings which conveyed a very tranquil ambiance; he strived to create not only the scenes he saw before him, but the emotions he felt from viewing those scenes. Zan passed away almost seven hundred years ago, and yet many of his paintings still remain: Looking at the Mountain from the Riverbank, Six Gentleman and Autumn Clouds over a Fishing Village.

Artwork by Ni Zan

Ni Zan - Autumn Wind and Bamboo - Late 14th Century

Ni Zan - Rock and Bamboo - Date Unknown

Ni Zan - Tree - Date Unknown

Ni Zan - Untitled Landscape 1 - Date Unknown

Ni Zan - Untitled Landscape 2 - Date Unknown