Important eighteenth-century Japanese scroll painting acquired by Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center

The Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center recently made a major acquisition: Pasturing Horses, an eighteenth-century scroll painting by Japanese artist Soga Shohaku.

The painting is a key addition to the Art Center’s impressive collection. James Mundy, the Anne Hendricks Bass Director of the Art Center, said, “The size, quality and expression found in this work make it among the very best available.” Shohaku is one of the three key mid-Edo period painters in Kyoto known as “The Eccentrics.”  The other two artists of this group, Ito Jakuchu and Nagasawa Rosetsu, are already represented in the Center’s collection. The acquisition of this painting is “a capstone for the Center’s Japanese collection,” Mundy added.

Felice Fischer, the Philadelphia Museum of Art’s curator of Asian art, concurred. “Pasturing Horses is a showcase for Shohaku’s skills: his finely controlled brushwork, his wonderful sense of humor, and his ability to capture a whole world even on a relatively small-scale surface. His marvelous depiction of the horses’ movement and the individual expressions of the grooms speak volumes about Shohaku’s creativity.”

The painting became known to scholars in 2003 and has been exhibited two times, first in the Shohaku retrospective exhibition in April, 2005 at the Kyoto National Museum. It was later included in the December 2005 exhibition Traditions Unbound, at the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco. It is currently on view at the Art Center and will remain so through mid-December, providing a rare opportunity for the public to see this major work.

Pasturing Horses started its existence as a pair of kobusuma, on sliding cupboard doors. After being removed from the door frames, they were combined and mounted in the scroll format. “When one looks carefully, one sees the repairs where the two round screen pulls once were,” said Mundy. Even though the paintings were relatively small ones, the artist signed his name prominently. “The subject of the painting is Tartars training or pasturing horses,” Mundy explained. “It stems from a long tradition of depiction in East Asian painting. Tartars were exotic and somewhat of a danger to the Chinese and even Japanese and their portrayal usually emphasized their ‘barbarism.’ In Shohaku’s depiction they take on an exaggerated dynamism as they struggle to tame their very wild steeds. This is a typical example of Shohaku’s sense of humor and, even, the absurd.”

Karen Hwang-Gold, assistant professor of art at Vassar, noted, “Using this single painting, one can teach a volume about Chinese Song, Yuan, and Ming landscape and narrative painting, as well as Japanese narrative and landscape traditions from tenth- and fifteenth- centuries, respectively. It is a tremendous gift to our students and the community.”

About Pasturing Horses

Soga Shohaku (Japanese 1730-1781)
Pasturing Horses or Taming Horses ca. 1763-7164
Hanging scroll ink and light colors on paper, mounted on silk
Signed and bearing the seal of Shohaku

About the Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center

The Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center was founded in 1864 as the Vassar College Art Gallery. The current 36,400-square-foot facility, designed by Cesar Pelli and named in honor of the new building's primary donor, opened in 1993. Vassar was the first U.S. college founded with a permanent art collection and gallery, and at any given time, the Permanent Collection Galleries of the Art Center feature approximately 350 works from Vassar's extensive collections. The Art Center's collections chart the history of art from antiquity to the present and comprise over 19,000 works, including paintings, sculptures, drawings, prints, photographs, and glass and ceramic wares.  Notable holdings include the Warburg Collection of Old Master prints, an important group of Hudson River School paintings given by Matthew Vassar at the college's inception, and a wide range of works by major European and American 20th-century painters.

Admission to the Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center is free and all galleries are wheelchair accessible.  The Art Center is open to the public Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, Saturday, 10:00am–5:00pm; Thursday, 10:00am–9:00pm; and Sunday, 1:00–5:00pm.  Located at the entrance to the historic Vassar College campus, the Art Center can be reached within minutes from other Mid-Hudson cultural attractions, such as Dia:Beacon, the Franklin Roosevelt and Eleanor Roosevelt national historic sites and homes, and the Vanderbilt mansion.  For additional information, the public may call (845) 437-5632 or visit

Directions to the Vassar campus, located at 124 Raymond Avenue in Poughkeepsie, NY, are available at

Vassar College is a highly selective, coeducational, independent, residential liberal arts college founded in 1861.

Posted by Office of Communications Tuesday, November 18, 2014