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Stephen L. Little

[Jen Jen-fa; zi Ziming; hao Yueshan Daoren]

(b Qinglongzhen [now Qingpu, Songjiang, Shanghai Municipality], 1255; d 1328).

Chinese painter. Under the Yuan dynasty (1279–1368) he became an official, rising to the level of Vice-President of the River Conservation Bureau. He was famous for his paintings of horses, which were much admired by both his Mongol and Chinese patrons. In horse painting he followed in the tradition of the Song-period (960–1279) artist Li Gonglin, which was characterized by use of the ‘iron-wire’ line and a minimum of shading. Ultimately, however, Ren’s style can be traced to the Tang (ad 618–907) painters Yan Liben and Han Gan.

Ren’s earliest surviving painting is dated 1280, indicating that he was a mature artist by his mid-twenties. Although he worked as an official under the alien Mongol emperors, he was capable of paintings that incorporated clear political messages. The most famous is Fat and Lean Horses (Beijing, Pal. Mus.), in which, according to his inscription, the fat horse represents the self-satisfied, wealthy official and the lean one the humble, poor, self-deprecating official. Most extant works by Ren are depictions of horses, but ...