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Asian art

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Wen Su


1879 - 1939


‘The previous critics saw the brushstroke of Xu Hao as hiding the tip within the composition, yet the strength well surpassed the limits of the character. Du Zimei [Du Fu 712–770] says that a piece of calligraphy is valued for its slenderness and toughness since only in this style can characters communicate with the divine. If one follows the current brush method, then the stroke will be done with sapless tips, though loaded fully with ink; and every character will look like a fat steam cake. [I] painted this paragraph using Wu Yue’s brush style, which is quite satisfactory.’
Inscription and signature: Recording of 'Dongpo zhilin' [by Su Shi], brushed at the request of Jingtang, by Wen Su, in late spring of the year 'wuyin' [1938].

The passage was taken from ‘Dongpo zhilin’ (Records on the eastern slope) by Su Shi. Xu Hao (703–782) is a renowned calligrapher of the Tang dynasty who carried on the tradition of Wang Xizhi, but had a distinctive style of his own. His calligraphy, the characters plump and vigorous, has the reputation of ‘hiding tip’ yet ‘exuding vigour’. Wu Yue was a renowned calligrapher of the mid 12th century; his small-scale regular script was considered unexcelled during the Song dynasty.

Su comments on the beginnings and ends of brushstrokes and whether the tip of the brush is visible or not while executing a stroke. The expression ‘hiding tip’ refers to the way the calligrapher makes the brush double back on the initial stroke to conceal the entry point – the spot where brush first meets paper. However if this is overstressed, it may result in what has been ridiculed as ‘a fat steam cake’: plump strokes with a lack of strength. Xiao Hao is considered a master of control, attaining the level of ‘hiding tip’.

Wen Su (alias Yifu) was a native of Shunde, Guangdong province. He attained the ‘jinshi’ degree in the year ‘guimao’ (1903). As a member of the Hanlin Academy, he, along with Wang Guowei, was made an adviser to Emperor Guangxu (r1875–1909), carrying out duties at the emperor’s Southern Study. He was appointed the censor, and was later sent to Japan to make an on-the-spot investigation of the education system. His graceful running script is a good example of the calligraphy of mandarins of the late Qing, who sought change within a highly regulated and restrictive system.

‘The Poetic Mandarin: Chinese Calligraphy from the James Hayes Collection’. pg.127.
© 2005 Art Gallery of New South Wales


Place where the work was made


Media category


Materials used

hanging scroll; ink on paper


144.5 x 38.4 cm image; 196.5 x 52.7 cm scroll

Signature & date

Signed c.l. to l.l., in Chinese, inscribed in black ink "by Wen Su, in late spring of the year of Wuyin (1938).".
Signed l.l., in Chinese, stamped in red ink “Wensu siyin [artist's seal]".
Signed l.l., in Chinese, stamped in red ink “Taishi shi [artist's seal]".


Gift of Dr. James Hayes 2003


Not on display

Accession number


Artist information

Wen Su

Works in the collection



Where the work was made

Shown in 1 exhibition

Exhibition history

Referenced in 1 publication


LIU Yang, The poetic mandarin: Chinese calligraphy from the James Hayes collection, Sydney, 2005, 126 (illus.), 127. 40