This delicately rendered plant, balanced with a small bird and bamboo grass, is called sankirai(“mountain plucked”; Smilax china). It is a deciduous, thorny climbing plant that grows by attaching itself to other plants. Its red fruit acts as a detoxicant and is a kind of sarsaparilla. The characters for its Japanese name indicate that it was sought in mountains because of the medicinal effects of its fruit and root.
This painting is a fine example of Sōtatsu’s close observations of nature and penchant for elevating the obscure distinction with elegant technique. It was formerly in the collection of Kawai Gyokudō (1873–1957), one of Japan’s most celebrated painters working in nihonga, the twentieth-century attempt to depict traditional topics in avant-garde styles—more evidence of Sōtatsu’s influence on modern Japanese painting.
Tawaraya Sōtatsu (act. ca. 1600–40)
Japan, early 17th century
Ink on paper
Tokyo National Museum