Soga Shōhaku, Dragon and Clouds (Un ryu- zu), Japanese, Edo period, 1763.
Unveiled last week at Boston's Museum of Fine Arts, Shōhaku's dragon had long been under wraps as it received extensive conservation and repair, including custom-made wooden lattice cores with multiple layers of paper on each side.
Extraordinary in person, the panels extend to a full 35' length despite two missing and long lost to history. The missing panels would have been just to the right of the dragons face in the picture above.
The dragon's face panel.
The piece dominates its room at the MFA; the lights low. All the better to imagine that it originally was inside a temple. Painted with ink, the piece while looking very graphic, is actually very nuanced with greys, giving the work a three dimensional feel.
A dragon's claw
Interestingly, the curators descriptions include mention of Soga Shōhaku's penchant for painting in a wild style fueled by copious amounts of alcohol. They point to areas such in the claw area above where it seems that large rags have been used to smear background. I'm not sure how much is lore or exaggeration, but much of the power does come from the tension of tightly controlled areas playing off of deft but loose handling of the ink. Indeed there is much splattering in the composition.
Panel with clouds.
The end panel above is typical of the wet on wet, very abstract handling of the clouds. Take away that claw and it's a close step to imaging a Pat Steir painting. Two scrolls and a powerful two panel ink drawing of a hawk round out this outstanding look into Soga Shōhaku's work.