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Asian Art
Artist: Chen Xianzhang, Chinese, 1428–1500


15th century

Hanging scroll: ink on paper, calligraphy in crazy-cursive script

with mounting: 108 7/8 × 23 1/16 in. (276.5 × 58.5 cm)
without mounting: 61 1/4 × 13 3/16 in. (155.5 × 33.5 cm)
Collection of H. Christopher Luce, B.A. 1972
A prominent scholar, philosopher, and calligrapher in the early Ming dynasty, Chen failed the national examinations and returned home to seek wisdom by reading. But after years of hard study, he realized that becoming wise required personal insight learned from direct experience (自得). He finally found enlightenment based on the principle of naturalness (自然) by communing with nature and stressing self-reliance. Chen signed this work with a simple 白沙, meaning “white sand,” the name of the hometown he never left and the art name he took for himself. He sealed it 石齋, “stone studio,” exemplifying the modesty and humility with which he led his life. Chen’s brushstrokes are similarly natural, and his unusual stylus added rustic coarseness. By using a stubby brush, his scratchy strokes went beyond abbreviation, almost beyond recognition. He was not seeking beauty, but simplicity and honesty. Often wearing out his brushes, Chen tied reeds together to make his own. Punning, he called such brushes maobi, “grass brush” (茅筆), rather than maobi, “fur brush” (毛筆).
Not on view
Ming dynasty (1368–1644)

H. Christopher Luce, New York; gifted in 2017 to Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, Conn.


“Acquisitions July 1, 2017–June 30, 2018,” https://artgallery.yale.edu/sites/default/files/files/bulletin/Pub-Bull-acquisitions-2018.pdf (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.