Four Treasures of a Scholar’s Studio (文房四寶)

Chinese artists create paintings and calligraphy with the Four Treasures of a Scholar’s Studio: Brush, inkstick, paper, and inkstone. Personal seal impressions are added either below or near the signature when the work is completed. This set of instruments was presented to the museum’s founder, Charles Lang Freer, in 1918 by the famous Shanghai art collector Pang Yuanji (1864-1945), from whom Freer acquired many important paintings.

Writing Brush

The Chinese brush has three components—hair, holder, and a sheath to cover the tip when not in use. The most important element is the hair, which may come from a deer, goat, sable, rabbit, or other animal, depending on the desired resilience and size of the brush. The ivory brush-holders are inscribed with a dedication to Charles Lang Freer by Pang Yuanji (1864–1945).

Inkstick in a brocade-covered box

Traditional Chinese ink comes in solid form, either as a stick or cake. It is made of pine soot or lampblack that is mixed with glue and pressed in molds to create a variety of shapes and sizes. To produce liquid ink, the artist grinds an inkstick with water on the hard surface of an inkstone. The resulting liquid ink varies in blackness according to the amount of water that is added. Inksticks are often decorated with molded designs or texts and painted with gold or other colors.

Paper (Stationery and Envelope)

Although Chinese paper is popularly known in the West as “rice paper,” the term is a misnomer. Bamboo, hemp fiber, and the bark of mulberry trees are the standard ingredients. Stationery is often lightly printed with texts or designs over which an artist writes or paints.

Inkstone and Container

Artists use an inkstone both as a surface for grinding the solid ink into liquid form and as a reservoir to hold the liquid ink once it is made. The surface of an inkstone should be fine and smooth, yet abrasive enough for grinding the ink quickly.


Seals are often stamped with red seal paste onto works of Chinese painting and calligraphy. The seal might give the name of the artist or his studio, the collector, or other private individuals, and it occasionally expresses a favorite brief saying.