An imaginary garden springs to life against a shimmering, abstract gold ground. Elegant stands of crested coxcombs and thistles are featured at the center, swaying to left and right in artful, bouquet-like clusters, enclosed above by and elegant arc of chrysanthemums and miscanthus grasses. The lower left corner is anchored by red and white poppies, the lower right by pine seedlings. Ground-hugging sarsaparilla (sarutori-ibara) fills the bottom center. Flowers of summer and autumn are compressed into a tightly organized composition on this dazzling two-panel screen.
Almost nothing is known about Sotatsu, not even his life dates, but he and his Tawaraya workshop in Kyoto used the circular red I’nen seal and specialized in large-scale, showy screens of flowers and grasses, as well as fan paintings. Fan shapes do seem to inform the composition of this screen. Close observation also reveals the meticulous, convincing depiction of each plant. The artist used ink wash to convey shading without use of outlines, the so-called “boneless” method. Colors are thin, allowing the gold ground to shine through. In places, the ink has puddled, further enhancing the realism of the image. The skilful technique suggests an artist associated with the mature period of Sotatsu’s studio. A similar composition with I’nen seal appears on a well-known set of four sliding doors in the Kyoto National Museum.
This and similar garden scenes are associated with a new interest in natural history and a boom in horticulture in the early seventeenth century among both the elite and commoners. At the same time, the art of ikebana, or flower arranging, was coming into its own, thanks to the second-generation head of the Ikenobo lineage. For the most recent study of Sotatsu, see Yukio Lippit and James T. Ulak, Sotatsu
(Washington, DC: Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, 2015).