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The Immortal Li Tieguai

Soga Shōhaku Japanese

Not on view

Leaning against a rock with his shabby robes exposing his chest and legs, one of the eight Chinese immortals Li Tieguai (Japanese: Ritekkai), a rich and elegant man, has exhaled a great breath bearing his spirit—the tiny figure carrying the walking stick—on a journey into the world. According to legend, the spirit would return to reclaim his body after each voyage, but during one of its absences, Li’s body was cremated and his spirit was forced to take up residence in the corpse of a lame beggar.

Here, Shōhaku has employed every imaginable style of brushed ink, demonstrating his mastery as one of the greatest of the so-called “eccentric” painters of the Edo period. Shōhaku is believed to hail from the province of Ise (now Mie Prefecture), and his many works surviving in this area even today appear to confirm this. Records indicate, however, that from his father’s generation the family lived in Kyoto. Whatever the case, Shōhaku developed his own distinctive style by deviating from the prevailing styles of Kyoto and instead professing to be an advocate of the by-then outdated style of the Muromachi period (1392–1572) painter Soga Jasoku (died 1483), in an attempt to compete with the popularity of the realist painter Maruyama Ōkyo (1733–1795).

The Immortal Li Tieguai, Soga Shōhaku (Japanese, 1730–1781), Hanging scroll; ink on paper, Japan

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