Couplet in clerical script

Artist: Chen Hongshou 陳鴻壽陳鴻壽 (1768-1822)
Historical period(s)
Qing dynasty, early 19th century
Pair of hanging scrolls; ink on woodblock printed paper
H x W (image, each): 154.4 x 34.2 cm (60 13/16 x 13 7/16 in)
Credit Line
Gift of Robert Hatfield Ellsworth in honor of the 75th Anniversary of the Freer Gallery of Art
Freer Gallery of Art
Accession Number
On View Location
Currently not on view

Hanging scrolls (pair)

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

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 2, Joseph Chang and Stephen D. Allee, May 19, 1998, in the object record)

Previous Owner(s) and Custodian(s)

Robert Hatfield Ellsworth 1929-2014


For extraordinary talent and inimitable erudition, both Lu and Wang are marvelous;
For elegant diction and splendid turns of phrase, Yan and Xie are equally renowned.*

Chen Hongshou, from Qiantang (modern Hangzhou) in Zhejiang Province, was an accomplished writer and painter, but is most famous for his calligraphy and seal carving, for which is numbered among the Eight Masters of Xiling. Chen served as magistrate of Liyang in Jiangsu Province from 1811 to 1817, and was then appointed for a three-year term as magistrate in nearby Yixing, the famous pottery center beside Lake Tai, where he became closely associated with the development of Yixing pottery, commissioning thousands of works from the best potters of the day, which he often decorated and inscribed with his own compositions.

Chen Hongshou excelled in ancient clerical script, as seen here, and developed a highly personalized style. He was particularly influenced by rock inscriptions from the Eastern Han dynasty (25-220), which were appreciated in Chen's day for their artlessness and natural simplicity. Loosely joined, the constituent elements of many characters deviate haphazardly from the central axis, while the external composition is stretched horizontally through the use of oblique vertical angles and elongated diagonal strokes that also help to establish balance and visual rhythm. Exaggerating the internal structures of individual characters and using clear, well-defined brushstrokes, Chen simultaneously signaled the archaic origins of the script and showcased his own artistic inventiveness. With their long tails and randomly distributed thick and thin lines, many characters appear to be constructed in an irregular, almost clumsy, manner. However, when viewed as a whole, the full composition reveals a harmonious and clearly premeditated sense of balance and proportion, both among the characters in each separate column and between the two columns side by side.

* Lu and Wang refer to two eminent seventh-century court poets, Lu Zhaolin (ca. 634-ca. 684) and Wang Bo (ca. 650-ca. 676). Yan and Xie refer to two leading poets of the fifth century, Yan Yanzhi  (384-456) and Xie Lingyun (385-443).

Published References
  • Robert Hatfield Ellsworth. Later Chinese Painting and Calligraphy: 1800-1950., 1st ed. New York. vols. 1, 3: pp. 257-58, 35.
  • Thomas Lawton, Joseph Chang, Stephen Allee. Brushing the Past: Later Chinese Calligraphy from the Gift of Robert Haftield Ellsworth. Exh. cat. Washington. cat. 7, pp. 78-81, 130.
  • 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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