The screens are mature works, dating from the middle or end of the artist’s career. The brushstrokes quiver and dart across the paper, with an electric sense of energy. The artist, considered one of the great eccentrics and innovators of the Edo period, is at the peak of his powers here. With technical virtuosity, he varies the gradation of ink washes from lush black foliage in the foreground to pale, silvery grey tones in the distance. An idealized, imaginary Chinese landscape opens out with a clear sense of recession built on an understanding of newly introduced Western spatial concepts. The entire composition is unified by this attention to gradual recession into the distance, an understanding of perspective that suggests familiarity with Western models.
On the right screen, in the lower right corner, a restaurant with tall flagpole (see the detail) at the edge of a lake welcomes visitors arriving at the nearby boat landing below or approaching from above on foot by a winding path. On the distant shore, a temple and pagoda shimmer in the mist (third panel from the right). To the left, beyond some islands, a gaggle of geese descends in ghostly formation, while fishing nets are set among reeds close to shore and more fishing boats head toward home. The artist has appropriated many elements from the classical Chinese theme of the Eight Views of Xiao and Xiang.
On the left screen, snowcapped mountain peaks anchor the composition, dominating the distant view. A tiny pagoda perches high on one peak; a waterfall cascades from another. At the far left, a path leads through a village gate to a cluster of houses among rocky outcroppings. At the center, visitors arrive to join a gathering of scholars communing with nature on a rocky plateau (third panel from the right).
For more on Shohaku, with special attention to his antisocial behavior, see Miyeko Murase, “The Rebel Painter Soga Shohaku in the Powers Collection,” Unrivalled Splendor: The Kimiko and John Powers Collection of Japanese Art (Houston: The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, 2013; distributed by Yale University Press, New Haven and London).