A slightly later inscription on this painting states that it was signed by the artist, but the signature is missing, probably lost in remounting. Zhao Kui, the painter, was a high minister of the Southern Song government, and Zhao may have painted these scenes of cool seclusion as an escape-in-spirit from the "dusty world" of the court and capital. The painting echoes a couplet by the great poet Du Fu (712-770): "The depths of the bamboo grove urge the visitor to stay/And enjoy the cool of the tranquil lotus." Traversing the handscroll from right to left, winding through the clumps of bamboo along the shore, one sees the top of a thatched kiosk hidden among them, two servants bringing donkeys along a path, and finally, toward the end, a man who sits in a waterside pavilion, fanned by a servant as he gazes out over water lilies. Zhao may very well have been picturing the scenery around Yangzhou, where he had a villa.
  Ni Zan's life and works are a striking antithesis to those of Wang Meng, whose work is shown below. From his youth Ni abhorred physical dirt and anything he considered "vulgar" or morally questionable. His early years were privileged: he collected antiques, practiced poetry, calligraphy, and painting, and entertained a rigorously selected group of friends. He later forsook his family property for a wandering life to escape burdensome taxes and local uprisings. He traveled about in a small boat, staying with friends and patrons, and repaying their hospitality with his paintings, which were increasingly in demand as a mark of elevated cultural status. Ni's simple, sparse, unpopulated scenery and spare, dry-brush style came to be seen as a metaphor for emotional alienation from what he saw as a contaminated world. His Six Gentlemen of 1345, painted for one of his hosts, is typical of Ni's work, depicting a river scene with widely separated banks-a compositional device itself expressive of distance and loneliness-with six impoverished-looking trees in the foreground "representing" the six men present at the gathering. Artists of later periods would emulate his way of endowing the barest of materials with multilayered meaning.
  Although many Chinese literati living under the Mongol Yuan dynasty refused government service, Wang Meng, defying Confucian prescriptions of loyalty, held minor posts under both the Mongols and their Ming conquerors, finally dying in prison under suspicion of treason by the paranoid founder of the Ming. His densely packed landscapes can be read as emblematic of engagement. Finest among Wang's surviving paintings is this 1366 landscape, which probably represents the Zhao family retreat at Mount Qingbian. Depictions of secluded villas were a specialty of Yuan literati artists, who ordinarily portrayed them as securely sequestered from the outside world, but Wang subverts this type by confounding the viewer's attempt to read coherent geological forms and spaces in his pictures, and by instilling a powerful restlessness through nervous, constantly shifting brushwork and an unnaturalistic play of light and shadow. The insecurity was real: the two principal contenders for the succession to Mongol rule were battling nearby at this time, and one of them, Zhu Yuanzhang, would become, two years later, the first emperor of the Ming dynasty.