Yamamoto Shoun painting
Shoun painting detail

Yamamoto Shoun, (1870-1965)

Shoki and Oni

hanging scroll, ink and colors on silk; signed Shoun hitsu and sealed Matsumoto and Shoun, ca. 1910-20s

painting 50 3/8 by 19 5/8 in., 128 by 50 cm
overall 82 5/8 by 25 in., 210 by 63.5 cm

Shoki, The Demon Queller, is based on a Chinese legendary figure Chung Kuei (or Zhong Gui), who committed suicide when he failed the civil service exam, but was nevertheless honored with a proper burial at the orders of the Emperor. His grateful ghost became a protector of the Emperor, vowing to rid the empire of all demons. In one version of the legend, the emperor had fallen ill but was cured when Chung Kuei appeared in a dream and chased away malevolent spirits. Known in Japan as Shoki, images of the fierce protector were favored as a talisman to ward off sickness. Shoki's never-ending struggle with impish demons (oni) became one of the most prevalent myths depicted in popular Japanese culture.

With this painting, Shoun depicts the fierce Shoki with his sword drawn, to no avail, as an oni flees to the upper left, triumphantly wearing Shoki's broad-brimmed hat. In other paintings by Shoun of the same subject, Shoki is more successful. In a painting from ca. 1913 he manages to trap a writhing oni beneath his straw hat. In another, from ca. 1947, Shoki has captured two oni; he holds a green oni by the throat in his left hand while simultaneously pinning a red oni to the ground with his right foot.

Reference:
Yamamoto Shoun Exhibition, Kochi City Museum of Art, 2005, p. 79, no. 206; and p. 96, no. 235

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