Soga Shokaku (Japanese 1730-1781), Pasturing Horses, c. 1763-1764. Ink and light colors on paper, mounted on silk. Purchase, Pratt Fund, 2014.28
POUGHKEEPSIE, NY.- The Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center, Vassar College’s art museum, recently made a major acquisition: Pasturing Horses, an eighteenth-century scroll painting by Japanese artist Soga Shohaku.
The painting is a key addition to the Art Center’s impressive collection. James Mundy, the Anne Hendricks Bass Director of the Art Center, said, “The size, quality and expression found in this work make it among the very best available.” Shohaku is one of the three key mid-Edo period painters in Kyoto known as “The Eccentrics.” The other two artists of this group, Ito Jakuchu and Nagasawa Rosetsu, are already represented in the Center’s collection. The acquisition of this painting is “a capstone for the Center’s Japanese collection,” Mundy added.
Felice Fischer, the Philadelphia Museum of Art’s curator of Asian art, concurred. “Pasturing Horses is a showcase for Shohaku’s skills: his finely controlled brushwork, his wonderful sense of humor, and his ability to capture a whole world even on a relatively small-scale surface. His marvelous depiction of the horses’ movement and the individual expressions of the grooms speak volumes about Shohaku’s creativity.”
Pasturing Horses started its existence as a pair of kobusuma, on sliding cupboard doors. After being removed from the door frames, they were combined and mounted in the scroll format. “When one looks carefully, one sees the repairs where the two round screen pulls once were,” said Mundy. Even though the paintings were relatively small ones, the artist signed his name prominently. “The subject of the painting is Tartars training or pasturing horses,” Mundy explained. “It stems from a long tradition of depiction in East Asian painting. Tartars were exotic and somewhat of a danger to the Chinese and even Japanese and their portrayal usually emphasized their ‘barbarism.’ In Shohaku’s depiction they take on an exaggerated dynamism as they struggle to tame their very wild steeds. This is a typical example of Shohaku’s sense of humor and, even, the absurd.”
Karen Hwang-Gold, assistant professor of art at Vassar, noted, “Using this single painting, one can teach a volume about Chinese Song, Yuan, and Ming landscape and narrative painting, as well as Japanese narrative and landscape traditions from tenth- and fifteenth- centuries, respectively. It is a tremendous gift to our students and the community.”
Soga Shokaku (Japanese 1730-1781), Pasturing Horses, c. 1763-1764 (detail). Ink and light colors on paper, mounted on silk. Purchase, Pratt Fund, 2014.28