Huang Gongwang was born Lu Jian during the late Song Dynasty in Changshu, Jiangsu. He was the oldest of the "Four Masters of the Yuan Dynasty.".
At the age of 10, the Song fell to the Mongol founders of the Yuan Dynasty and he, like many other Chinese scholars of the time, found his path to officialdom and a good career severely limited. "He was first an unranked ling-shih at a Surveillance Office in the Chiang-che Branch Secretariat, probably engaged in some sort of land tax supervision. Later he served as a secretary in the metropolitan Censorate where he was unfortunately involved in the slander case of a minister, Chang Lu. He seems to have spent quite some time in jail before rereating into Taoism [as did many others of the age--another was the famous painter Ni Zan], completely disillusioned." He spent his last years in the Fu-ch'un mountains near Hangzhou devoting himself to Taoism, where around 1350 he completed one of his most famous, and arguably greatest, works, Dwelling in the Fuchun Mountains.
In art he rejected the landscape conventions of his era's Academy, but is now regarded as one of the great literati painters.