Sōtatsu: Making Waves

Whose Sleeves?

Charles Lang Freer acquired these screens in 1907, a year after he purchased Waves at Matsushima. He surely was pleased that his treasured Sōtatsu screens were referenced in an Edo period (1615–1868) genre of painting called tagasode, often translated as “whose sleeves?” The screens celebrate material abundance, casually displayed. The viewer is invited to be a voyeur, to savor the gorgeous clothing and luxury items that adorn the private interior. Robes draped carelessly over folding screens leave the viewer to ponder where the owner might be; romping cats add to the scene’s erotic tone.

The specificity of the screen depicted in the interior is striking. A six-panel screen—its full image partially obscured by the tossed garment—seems to be the right screen of Waves at Matsushima; in the lower-right section is an approximation of the Taiseiken seal, also found on the Matsushima screens. Missing, however, is any attempt to replicate Sōtatsu’s signature. Close examination of the depiction and position of the islands suggests that the image is closer to a version attributed to Ogata Kōrin (1658–1716) in the collection of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (also on view in this gallery). Additional views.


Whose Sleeves?
Japan, 18th century
Pair of six-panel screens
Ink, colors, and gold on paper
Freer Gallery of Art, Gift of Charles Lang Freer, F1907.126-127


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