March 21–July 6, 2014

Return of the Dragon

Shohaku’s Dragon and Clouds

Don't miss the first MFA showing of the recently restored "Dragon and Clouds" (1763) by the celebrated Japanese eccentric artist Soga Shōhaku.

"One of those jaw-dropping, brow-mopping masterpieces that causes crowds to congregate." —The Boston Globe

A native of Kyoto, and known for his unconventional techniques and irreverent humor, Shōhaku depicts a dragon swooping down through whirls of clouds and mist, and swishing its scaly tail in a rhythmic symphony of rich shades of ink that extends across the thirty-five-foot-long composition. The exhibition commemorates the 55th anniversary of the Kyoto-Boston sister city relationship. When the painting first entered the MFA’s collection in 1911, it was mounted in four sections on thick paper. In recent years, the work was determined to have originally comprised eight paintings on sliding doors (fusuma) that would have been part of a larger set adorning the interior of a Buddhist temple hall. In preparation for its inclusion in a 2012 exhibition of the MFA’s masterpieces in Japan, the paintings were treated by specialists in the Museum’s Asian Conservation Studio. Five years ago they began the process by separating and repairing the damaged paintings, and preparing custom-made wooden lattice cores with multiple layers of paper on each side. The paintings were mounted on these modified fusuma panels and finished with an appropriate lacquer wooden trim. The MFA has long been widely recognized for its unparalleled collection of works by Shōhaku, including these works on view along with Dragon and Clouds: Hawk (about 1763) and two hanging scrolls by the artist from the late 1770s.

Download the Dragons Art Connections card and search for objects and images throughout the Museum to discover how different cultures viewed dragons, and get ideas for art-making activities. See other Art Connections cards.

Above: Soga Shōhaku, Dragon and Clouds (Un ryu- zu) (detail), Japanese, Edo period, 1763. Fusuma; ink on paper. William Sturgis Bigelow Collection.

  • Asian Paintings Gallery (Gallery 178)