Couplet in standard script

Artist: Zhao Zhiqian 趙之謙 (1829-1884)
Historical period(s)
Qing dynasty, mid- to late 19th century
Pair of hanging scrolls; ink on paper
H x W (image, each): 131.5 x 32.8 cm (51 3/4 x 12 15/16 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, couplet, Qing dynasty (1644 - 1911), Robert Hatfield Ellsworth collection, standard 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 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


When tiger and leopard change, it shows in the signs of nature;
When the phoenix soars aloft, the world of writing is glorious.

One of the foremost calligraphers, painters, and seal carvers of the nineteenth century, Zhao Zhiqian was born to a merchant family in Guiji (modern Shaoxing), Zhejiang province. A precocious youth, he received a solid education and was intent on pursuing a career as a scholar-official. He passed the provincial examinations in nearby Hangzhou, but was soon forced to flee the city when Taiping rebels captured it in March 1860. Zhao then made his way to the capital Beijing, where his reputation as an up-and-coming artist had preceded him. He failed his first attempt at the national examinations, and spent much of the 1860s either preparing for the exams or traveling back and forth to Beijing in a fruitless quest to pass them. Eventually, Zhao secured a recommendation in 1872 for a government position in Jiangxi Province, where he ultimately served as prefect in three different locations and died of illness in 1884.

Zhao Zhiqian was trained when young in the model-letters tradition, however he was always interested in more ancient forms of calligraphy, and around the age of thirty, he struck out in new directions. Strongly attracted to the works of Deng Shiru (1743-1805), Zhao became a follower of this tradition and eventually developed his own unique style. He is particularly renowned for works written in the early forms of standard script found on stone monuments from the Northern Wei dynasty (386-535), as seen in this couplet. Zhao's calligraphy is characterized by boldness, weight, and amplitude, while subtle changes in the brushstrokes and slight modulations in the otherwise uniform tonality of the ink respond to the complexity of the structural forms. Individual characters lean perceptibly upward to the right, while the rounded, upcurved finishing strokes on several characters furnish the work with a distinctly lively quality.

Published References
  • Robert Hatfield Ellsworth. Later Chinese Painting and Calligraphy: 1800-1950., 1st ed. New York. vols. 1, 3: pp. 282, 86.
  • Thomas Lawton, Joseph Chang, Stephen Allee. Brushing the Past: Later Chinese Calligraphy from the Gift of Robert Haftield Ellsworth. Exh. cat. Washington. cat. 11, pp. 94-97, 133.
  • 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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