In this work we experience a majestic mountain landscape with gatherings of tiny figures enjoying poetry writing games and philosophical discussion. The Orchid Pavilion Gathering was a celebrated cultural and poetic event held during the Six Dynasties era (222–589), in China. Cups of wine are floated down a winding stream while men of leisure and poetry sit along its banks; whenever a cup stops, the man closest to the cup is required to drink it and compose a poem. Brushed with gestural precision onto silk, Shohaku has created stylised clouds, rock formations, tiny figures, a variety of trees and a languidly flowing river that display a unique Japanese approach to painting and design that distinguish this work from the numerous depictions of the same subject by Chinese painters.
Soga Shohaku was born to a wealthy merchant family in Kyoto, however, by the age of seventeen he was without family with his older brother, father and mother all having passed away. It is often surmised that such circumstances influenced the artist’s eccentric style, unique worldview and arrogant, brazen personality.
Shohaku produced works during his early years in the province of Ise (now Mie Prefecture) and during his mid-life in the Ise and Banshu area (now southern Hyogo Prefecture). Finally during the last decade of his life he settled in Kyoto and produced the most mature works of his career. It was during this Kyoto period, just three years prior to his death that Shohaku painted this work which has come to be considered one of the finest from this final highly developed phase of his career.
Text by Wayne Crothers © National Gallery of Victoria, Australia