DETAIL IN FOCUS
The Kyoto-born painter Soga Shōhaku [曾我蕭白] (1730–1781) wasn't your typical Edo-period artist. He lived an eccentric life and adopted long out of fashion styles and subjects. In this large painting, called Folding Screen Showing Lin Hejing Shōhaku displays his cheeky side. In the two folding screens, the painter depicts an ancient Chinese poet and scholar named Lin Hejing (967–1028). Lin was famous for his poetry and his pets: a pair of red-crested cranes. Shōhaku cleverly improvises on this familiar subject. Take a closer look at the cranes here.
On, the right screen (lower area of the photograph) we see the seated Lin Hejing holding a fan inscribed with poetry and wearing a slightly annoyed expression. Could the grinning young boys be the cause of his irritation?
The left screen features Lin's famous pet cranes which are a pair of male birds judging by the red patches on their foreheads and black cheeks and necks. Long admired in Japan, red-crested cranes symbolize longevity, loyalty and strength. While highlighting these qualities, the unconventional Shōhaku injects a bit of humor into the scene by setting up a playful comparison between the admirable birds and the boisterous boys.
By painting the birds in the same area of the screen as the trio of the scholar, Shōhaku implies a comparison between the humans and animals. While the cranes carry on an elegant dialogue through their subtle movements, the same cannot be said for the scholar whose patience is tried by his young servants.
The cranes represent a harmonious pairing, while the scholar seems mismatched with his own companions.