Couplet in clerical-standard script


Artist: Zhang Hairuo (1877-1943)
Historical period(s)
Modern period, early to mid-20th century
Pair of hanging scrolls; ink on paper
H x W (image, each): 130.1 x 30.7 cm (51 1/4 x 12 1/16 in)
Credit Line
Gift of Robert Hatfield Ellsworth in honor of the 75th Anniversary of the Freer Gallery of Art
Robert Hatfield Ellsworth collection
Accession Number
On View Location
Currently not on view

Hanging scrolls

China, clerical-standard script, couplet, Modern period (1912 - present), Robert Hatfield Ellsworth collection, WWII-era provenance

To 1998
Robert Hatfield Ellsworth (born 1929), New York City, to 1998

From 1998
Freer Gallery of Art, given by Robert Hatfield Ellsworth in 1998 [1]


[1] All Chinese calligraphy in the gift were published in Mr. Ellsworth's Later Chinese Painting and Calligraphy: 1800-1950, vol. 3 (New York: Random House, 1986) (according to Curatorial Note 4, Joseph Chang, May 19, 1998, in the object record).

Previous Owner(s)

Robert Hatfield Ellsworth 1929-2014


Off I go to the peaks in front to plant the seeds of pines;
I bring along some springtime wine and seek a bamboo grove.

The creation of matching couplets (duilian) became a literary game during the seventeenth century and has remained popular among Chinese poets and calligraphers to this day. A successful matching couplet complies with all the rules of balanced composition that apply to much of traditional Chinese poetry. Couplets may be original, borrowed from an existing poem, or combine two lines from separate poems.

For the present couplet, Zhang Hairuo selected lines from two poems composed during the Tang dynasty (618-907). He borrowed the first line (right scroll) from a poem by Li Pin (active 840s-870s) titled "Inscribed on the Thatched Hall of Alchemist Gu on Yangshan," which describes the departure of the immortal alchemist into the mountains. The second line (left scroll) comes from a poem by Wang Changling (ca. 690-ca. 756) titled "Rustic Picnic at Longbiao," which describes an excursion taken by the author in his place of exile. In this couplet, pine and bamboo serve as parallel symbols of moral fortitude and integrity, adding nuance and purpose to the ideas of departure and separation.

Published References
  • Thomas Lawton, Joseph Chang, Stephen Allee. Brushing the Past: Later Chinese Calligraphy from the Gift of Robert Haftield Ellsworth. Exh. cat. Washington. .
  • 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.
  • Robert Hatfield Ellsworth. Later Chinese Painting and Calligraphy: 1800-1950., 1st edition. New York. pp. 329, 191.
Collection Area(s)
Chinese Art
Web Resources
Whistler's Neighborhood
Google Cultural Institute
Rights Statement

Copyright with artist