Couplet in running script

Artist: He Shaoji (1799-1873)
Historical period(s)
Qing dynasty, mid-19th century
Pair of hanging scrolls; ink on colored paper
H x W (image, each): 156.9 x 29.2 cm (61 3/4 x 11 1/2 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, Qing dynasty (1644 - 1911), Robert Hatfield Ellsworth collection, running script

To 1998
Robert Hatfield Ellsworth (1929-2014), New York, NY. [1]

From 1998
Freer Gallery of Art, gift of Robert Hatfield Ellsworth, New York, NY. [2]


[1] Curatorial Remark 4 in the object record.

[2] See note 1. Also see Freer Gallery of Art Purchase List after 1920 file, Collections Management Office.

Previous Owner(s) and Custodian(s)

Robert Hatfield Ellsworth 1929-2014


On the sloping banks of the ancient inkstone, the musk-scented ink is green,
Around the miniature hill with its verdant growth, the basin of stone is cold.

He Shaoji is generally acknowledged as one of the most important and original calligraphers of the nineteenth century. Initially trained in the model-letters tradition, he later studied more archaic forms of script and established himself as one of the leading calligraphers of the Stele School. As he progressed from one focus of study to another, He Shaoji consciously synthesized each new technique with those he had mastered before and succeeded in creating a distinctive style that was all his own. He also devised a different way of holding the brush that required an extraordinary degree of physical exertion and mental discipline. By suspending his entire arm from the shoulder and bending both the elbow and wrist inward, much as a person drawing the string of a bow, He Shaoji not only changed the normal mechanics of writing, but also significantly altered the way that force and control could be exerted on the brush and the effect that certain movements would produce on the forms and structures of individual characters. This method also imparts a unique sense of emotional tension to his writing.

He Shaoji was born to a scholar-official family in the town of Daozhou (modern Daoxian), in southern Hunan Province, but moved as a boy with his parents to the capital Beijing, where his father pursued a successful political career. He Shaoji himself passed the national examinations in 1836 and was appointed to a series of positions in the imperial Historiography Institute (1838-49). In 1852, he became education commissioner for Sichuan Province, where he diligently conducted examinations throughout the province until mid-1855, when he lost his office for making an imprudent proposal to the throne and never sought government service again. He Shaoji subsequently served as headmaster of academies in Shandong and Hunan provinces, and in 1870 he accepted an invitation from the governor of Jiangsu Province to move to the city of Suzhou, where he later died.

Published References
  • Robert Hatfield Ellsworth. Later Chinese Painting and Calligraphy: 1800-1950., 1st ed. New York. vols. 1, 3: pp. 274-5, 70.
  • Thomas Lawton, Joseph Chang, Stephen Allee. Brushing the Past: Later Chinese Calligraphy from the Gift of Robert Haftield Ellsworth. Exh. cat. Washington. cat. 4, pp. 66-69, 129.
  • 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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