A Branch of Bamboo

Artist: Ni Zan 倪瓚 (1306-1374)
Calligrapher: Inscription by Qian Weishan (1341-ca. 1379)
Historical period(s)
Yuan or Ming dynasty, ca. 1369
Ink on paper
H x W (image): 29.3 x 29 cm (11 9/16 x 11 7/16 in)
Credit Line
Gift of Charles Lang Freer
Freer Gallery of Art Collection
Accession Number
On View Location
Currently not on view
Album, Painting

Album leaf

bamboo, China, Ming dynasty (1368 - 1644), Yuan dynasty (1279 - 1368)

To 1915
Tonying and Company, New York to 1915 [1]

From 1915 to 1919
Charles Lang Freer (1854-1919), purchased from Tonying and Company, New York in 1915 [2]

From 1920
Freer Gallery of Art, gift of Charles Lang Freer in 1920 [3]


[1] See Original Album List, pg. 48, Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery Archives. By at least 1917, Tonying and Company maintained business locations in Shanghai, Beijing, Paris, London, and New York, NY.

[2] See note 1.

[3] The original deed of Charles Lang Freer's gift was signed in 1906. The collection was received in 1920 upon the completion of the Freer Gallery.

Previous Owner(s) and Custodian(s)

Charles Lang Freer 1854-1919
Tonying and Company (C.L. Freer source) established 1902


Ni Zan was one of the most influential artists of the Yuan dynasty (1279-1368). Known primarily for his landscapes, he was also an important painter of bamboo. This album leaf, signed by the artist at lower right, is a typical example of Ni's quick, spare style and illustrates the compositional structure he often favored for this subject: one or two branches silhouetted against a plain background. Ni Zan probably painted this leaf toward the end of his life, during the early years of the Ming dynasty (1368-1644), when his eyesight was failing and the crisp brushwork of his youth had begun to diminish. A few years later, the poet Qian Weishan (active 1341-ca. 1379) added a few brief lines at upper left to honor his then-deceased friend:

My old friend knew how to sketch bamboo,
And patterned his approach upon Wen Tong.
Calmly he looked out the western window,
And the cool wind filled his page with fall.

(Translation by Stephen D. Allee)

To learn more about this and similar objects, visit http://www.asia.si.edu/SongYuan/default.asp Song and Yuan Dynasty Painting and Calligraphy.

Published References
  • James Cahill. Chinese Album Leaves in the Freer Gallery of Art. Washington and Japan, 1961-1962. p. 34, pl. 18.
  • Sabina Knight. Chinese Literature: A Very Short Introduction. United Kingdom. p. 40.
  • David E. Cooper. Convergence with Nature: A Daoist Perspective. UK. p. 106.
Collection Area(s)
Chinese Art
Web Resources
Song and Yuan Dynasty Painting and Calligraphy
Google Cultural Institute
SI Usage Statement

Usage Conditions Apply

There are restrictions for re-using this image. For more information, visit the Smithsonian's Terms of Use page.

The information presented on this website may be revised and updated at any time as ongoing research progresses or as otherwise warranted. Pending any such revisions and updates, information on this site may be incomplete or inaccurate or may contain typographical errors. Neither the Smithsonian nor its regents, officers, employees, or agents make any representations about the accuracy, reliability, completeness, or timeliness of the information on the site. Use this site and the information provided on it subject to your own judgment. The Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery welcome information that would augment or clarify the ownership history of objects in their collections.