Couplet in running script

Artist: Liu Yong (1720-1805)
Historical period(s)
Qing dynasty, late 18th-early 19th century
Hanging scroll; Ink on handpainted sized paper
H x W (image, each): 173.3 x 31.5 cm (68 1/4 x 12 3/8 in)
Credit Line
Gift of Robert Hatfield Ellsworth in honor of the 75th Anniversary of the Freer Gallery of Art
Freer Gallery of Art Collection
Accession Number
On View Location
Currently not on view

Hanging scrolls (pair)

China, couplet, Qing dynasty (1644 - 1911), Robert Hatfield Ellsworth collection, running script

To 1997
Robert Hatfield Ellsworth (born 1929), New York City, to 1997

From 1997
Freer Gallery of Art, given by Robert Hatfield Ellsworth in 1997 [1]


[1] The total gift from the Ellsworth collection consists of nearly three-hundred objects (F1997.42-.85 and F1998.83-294). All Chinese calligraphy in the proposed gift were published in Mr. Ellsworth's Later Chinese Painting and Calligraphy: 1800-1950 vol. 3 (New York: Random House, 1986) (see Curatorial Note 4, Joseph Chang and Stephen D. Allee, May 19, 1998, in the object record).

Previous Owner(s) and Custodian(s)

Robert Hatfield Ellsworth 1929-2014


Playing with ink like a goose over the sea, I copy rubbings at dawn,
Walking-stick flames soar into the clouds as I collate texts at night.

Liu Yong was one of the most influential calligraphers of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. He was a leader of the "model-letters school", but unlike many adherents of the tradition, he did not feel constrained to slavishly follow established historical models, absorbing instead the strong points of each individual master and style and adapting them to create a new formulation that was entirely his own. Liu is best known for his works in standard script and running script, as here. This couplet shows the forceful attack, heavy use of ink, and subtle blend of thin and thick brushstrokes that are typical of his mature style. Balance and spacing are carefully maintained. while the plump, full characters are rendered with Liu's usual unadorned elegance and simplicity.

Liu Yong was born to prominent political family from Shandong Province. His father, Liu Tongxun (1700-1773), achieved the pinnacle of government service, the prime ministerial rank of Grand Secretary, which he occupied from 1761 to 1773. His only son, Liu Yong embarked on a successful official career that was generally aided by his father's station and marred only briefly by the occasional demotions which often attended public service in the imperial system. Despite these minor setbacks, over the years Liu Yong rose steadily in esteem and was promoted to the uppermost ranks of government, where he managed to avoid entanglement in the factional intrigues and material profligacy of the late-eighteenth century court by scrupulously maintaining the highest standards of ethical conduct and personal integrity. In 1797, at the age of seventy-seven, Liu Yong himself was selected as Grand Secretary by the newly ascended Jiaqing emperor (reigned 1796-1820) and remained in that lofty position until his death.

Published References
  • Robert Hatfield Ellsworth. Later Chinese Painting and Calligraphy: 1800-1950., 1st ed. New York. vol. 1: p. 246, vol. 3: p. 10.
  • Thomas Lawton, Joseph Chang, Stephen Allee. Brushing the Past: Later Chinese Calligraphy from the Gift of Robert Haftield Ellsworth. Exh. cat. Washington. cat. 1, pp. 58-59, 126-27.
  • Thomas Lawton, Thomas W. Lentz. Beyond the Legacy: Anniversary Acquisitions for the Freer Gallery of Art and the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery. vol. 1 Washington, 1998. pp. 256-261.
Collection Area(s)
Chinese Art
Web Resources
Google Cultural Institute
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