Asian Art
Artist: Wu Dacheng, Chinese, 1835–1902

Couplet in Small Seal Script (Xiaozhuan)

late 19th century

Pair of hanging scrolls, ink on paper

without mounting (each): 52 3/8 × 12 13/16 in. (133 × 32.6 cm)
with mounting (each): 80 11/16 × 18 1/2 in. (205 × 47 cm)
with rollers (each): 21 1/16 in. (53.5 cm)
Collection of H. Christopher Luce, B.A. 1972
A native of Suzhou, Wu Dacheng was born into a scholarly home where literature was cherished. After passing examinations and graduating with advanced degrees, he served the government with distinction in war and peace. He collected ancient bronzes and wrote poetry, calligraphy, and books on etymology. A leader of the Epigraphic movement (jinshixue pai, 金石皐派), he sponsored “elegant gatherings” for artists like Wu Changshuo and Luo Zhenyu, and was so passionate for early writing that he wrote his correspondence in seal script. This script evolved from earlier written forms, the more stylized characters confined to a grid, the lines thin and even, and the space carefully composed. Less pictographic than logographic, it remains widely used on seals to confirm identity and authenticity. Wu’s brushstrokes are executed with vitality and precision, and his stable compositions inspire confidence. While his studies informed his art, his calligraphy gave him insight into antiquity—a revolution in linguistics and a key concept of that movement. While the characters derived from inscriptions, the forms created required an intuitive feel for space and masterful brush technique—they transcend writing, becoming graphic design.
Not on view
Qing dynasty (1644–1911)

Sotheby's Sale HK0587/1361; purchased in 2015 by H. Christopher Luce, New York; gifted in 2017 to Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, Conn.


“Acquisitions July 1, 2017–June 30, 2018,” (accessed December 1, 2018).

Note: This electronic record was created from historic documentation that does not necessarily reflect the Yale University Art Gallery’s complete or current knowledge about the object. Review and updating of such records is ongoing.