Soga Shohaku was one of the Three Eccentrics of the Edo period (1615–1868). Accounts of Shohaku’s life are full of anecdotes about his bizarre behavior, and stories about him took on a legendary character. He enjoyed immense popularity in Japan during his lifetime, and his paintings were appreciated for their unconventional approach to classical subject matter.
Shoki, the subject of this painting, is the Japanese name of a Chinese popular hero, Zhong Kui, who lived in the seventh century. Unjustly defrauded of a first-rank grade in his civil examinations, Zhong Kui committed suicide on the steps of the imperial palace. The emperor then ordered that he be buried with high honors in a green robe reserved for the imperial family. Out of gratitude, Zhong Kui’s spirit dedicated itself to protecting the empire from demons.
Shoki the Demon Queller became a popular subject of Japanese painting in the Edo period, and Shohaku painted it in many versions, always with humor and imagination. Though executed in ink with strong and forceful strokes, his paintings are never extreme in their exaggerations but marked by a refinement of brushwork that lies at the core of his achievement.
(Harry Packard, Kyoto);
purchased by Kimbell Art Foundation, Fort Worth, 1987.