A dozen ancient Chinese scrolls, said to include "some of the most important examples of Chinese calligraphy in any American museum or private collection," have been purhcased by the Smithsonian Institution's Freer Gallery of Art.
Though no price was announced, the collection was bought under the provisions of a special Smithsonian fund set aside for acquisitions of outstanding quality which, in this museum's case, means those that cost at least $200,000. Freer director Thomas Lawton says the calligraphie were purchased from "a private collector who left China 30 years ago. If we hadn't bought them immediately, we might have lost them."
The rarest item purchased, a 4th-century rubbing taken from a funerary tablet, is the only surviving version of the "Epitaph for My Wet-Nurse" by Wang Hsien-chih who, with his father, co-founded the orthodox school of Chinese calligraphy. Chao Meng-fu (1254-1322), who inscribed that scroll, is represented in the collection by another work, the "Taoist Sutra of Constant Purity and Tranquility," which that master wrote in his so-called "regular script." The Freer's new calligraphy is one of only three examples known.
Shen Fu, the Freer's curator of Chinese art who discovered the collection, notes that one of the scrolls purchased, a 20-foot-long example of Hsu Wei (1521-1593), contains the texts of 11 poems by that master, only four of which were previously known. The Freer's new acquisitions will be displayed next year in an exhibition of Chinese calligraphy scheduled for April.