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Artist: Ohara Koson (小原古邨) / Shōson (祥邨)

Alternate names:
Hōson (go - 豊邨)
Ohara Matao (family name - 小原又雄)
Ohara Shōson (小原祥邨)

Lifetime: 1877 - 1945

Related links:

Biography:

Ohara Koson (1877-1945) was the most famous shin hanga designer of bird and flower prints (kacho-e). He created prints under three different artist names (go): Ohara Hoson, Ohara Shoson and Ohara Koson. While he worked for a number of publishers, his most famous association was with the publisher Watanabe Shōzaburō (1885-1962).

Koson is acknowledged as a master of twentieth-century printed kachoga, and with some 500 prints to his name, he was one of the most, if not the most, prolific kachōga artists.

Koson's prints were designed for Western tastes and were exported to the United States and Europe where they met with great success. His work has only recently received attention in his native Japan following the discovery of important reference material including original sketches and paintings for his prints.

1934 group photo with Ohara Koson the figure at the back on the right. The artist Okada Saburosuke (1869-1939) is first figure on left, with Watanabe Tadas pictured first on right, followed by his father Watanabe Shōzaburō (1885-1962) and the artists Ito Shinsui and Kawase Hasui (1883-1957). (Scanned from Crows, Cranes & Camellias, Fig. 23, p. 25.)

Sources: Printed to Perfection – Twentieth-century Japanese Prints from the Robert O. Muller Collection, Joan B. Mirviss, et. al., Smithsonian Institution and Hotei Publishing, 2004, p. 50; Crows, Cranes & Camellias. The Natural World of Ohara Koson 1877-1945. Japanese Prints from the Jan Perree Collection, Amy Reigle Newland, Jan Perree & Robert Schaap, Amsterdam Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, 2001, p. 9-29.

Little is definitively known about the artist's life. He was born Ohara Matao in Kanazawa, Ishikawa Prefecture in the north of Japan. It is thought that he attended the Ishikawa Prefecture Technical School from 1889-93 where he learned painting and design and that he met he studied with the painter Suzuki Kason (1860-1908) either while there or after he moved to Tokyo. It is likely that he received his go (artist’s name) Koson from Kason. Around 1900 he became a teacher at the Tokyo Bijutsu Gakko (Tokyo School of Fine Arts), where he is said to have met the American Ernest Fenollosa (1853-1908), then a professor at the Tokyo Teikoku Daigaku (Tokyo Imperial University; present-day University of Tokyo) and an advocate of traditional Japanese arts. Under Fenollosa’s encouragement, Koson began producing kachō-e (bird and flower) prints and exhibiting his paintings and woodcuts in the United States.2

In 1912 Koson changed his artist’s name to Shōson. For approximately the next fourteen years he dedicated himself primarily to painting, until his relationship with the publisher Watanabe Shōzaburō (1885-1962) solidified in 1926.

In addition to kachō-e he designed several prints of the Russo-Japanese War (1904-1905) for the publisher Kanatado Heizo and and a number of landscape prints.

1. The Shijo school's style focuses on a Western-influenced objective realism, but achieved with traditional Japanese painting techniques.

2. Amy Reigle Newland in Crows, Cranes & Camellias (op cit.) casts doubt on the association with Fenollosa - "...he may have well known Fenollosa. But the nature and extent of this relationship, if it existed is unclear."

Publishers:

3. Source: Printed to Perfection – Twentieth-century Japanese Prints from the Robert O. Muller Collection, Joan B. Mirviss, et. al., Smithsonian Institution and Hotei Publishing, 2004, p. 50 and an internet posting of May 24, 2000 by Jan Perrée (whose collection formed the basis of the catalogue raisonné.)

"Most of his earlier woodcuts (c. 1904-05) were published in Tokyo by Daikokuya 4 (Matsuki Heikichi) and Kokkeido (Akiyama Buemon). In 1926 he began working with the publisher Watanabe Shozaburo (1885-1962) who, as a result of the devastating Great Kanto Earthquake of 1 September 1923, was looking for new print artists like Koson to rebuild his business. Koson signed his prints issued by Watanabe with the name Shoson. He worked for Watanabe until about 1935. In the early 1930s, Koson also made prints with the publisher Sakai/Kawaguchi and signed them Hoson. After about 1935 he worked under the name "Shoson" probably for Nishinomiya Yosaku, a small publisher in Tokyo who worked from around 1900 till the end of World-War II."

4. Koson’s prints can perhaps be best characterized as “printed paintings.” Particularly in his early work with the publisher Daikokuya (Matsuki Heikichi), blockcutters and printers convincingly transmitted the painterly feel of his works to the print medium. His work with Watanabe assumes a more graphic and less painterly feel then his earlier publishers, Kokkeido and Daikokuya. Shoson's prints were displayed at both the 1930 (21 prints) and 1936 (33 prints)Toledo Museum of Art exhibitions of shin-hanga prints. 3. For as detailed an explanation of Shoson's publishers Daikokuya and Kokkeido see Crows, Cranes & Camellias, pp. 18-21 (op. cit.)

4. There is some confusion about Daikokuya's role in publishing Koson prints in the 1930s and 40s, after ownership of the publishing house transferred from the Matsuki family to S. Koizumi.

5. According to Newland in Crows, Cranes & Camellias, "...it seems that the Nishinomiya prints date to sometime later, perhaps after WWII, and were pulled from older blocks." (op. cit.)

Designs for the Western Market
Source: John Fiorillo’s website Viewing Japanese Prints http://www.viewingjapaneseprints.net/texts/shinhangatexts/shinhanga_pages/shoson3.html

"The subject matter and style of Shôson's prints appealed to the Western market and thus much of his work was intended for export. His compositional style and marketing significantly affected how his works were viewed in Japan, for he was considered an artist somewhat outside the circle of those who designed prints for the home market and the Japanese taste.

There was little interest in his work in Japan until many years later, c. 1970, when Japanese scholars and collectors began recognizing the genius of this great artist."

Promo for catalogue raisonné "Crows, Cranes and Camellias: The Natural World of Ohara Koson, 1877-1945"

"Little is known about the artist Ohara Koson (1877-1945), whose career bridged the era between the decline of the full-color woodblock print (nishiki-e) in the late 19th century/early 20th century and the emergence of the Shin-hanga ("new print") movement in the 1910s. An artist principally marketed abroad, Koson’s bird-and-flower prints met with great success in the United States and Europe. He has only recently received attention in his native Japan following the discovery of important reference material including original sketches and paintings for his prints."

"The work of print artist Ohara Koson (1877-1945) mainly consists of prints of birds and flowers, characterized by their peaceful charm. This book about Koson is the first Western publication of his oeuvre of prints and paintings. It provides all known information on the artist's life and work, his teachers and publishers, facsimiles of his signatures and seals and illustrations of an estimated seventy-five percent of his total print output."