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Prints depicting birds and flowers are called kacho-e by the Japanese. They have a long tradition in Chinese and Japanese painting. Hokusai and Hiroshige were the great old masters of kacho-e in the first half of the nineteenth century.
First Publication: September 2002
Latest Update: April 2013
For the twentieth century Ohara Koson is the undisputed master of the world of nature prints. It is hard to understand why, but little is know about the life and the works of this master of kacho-e. A new book by Amy Reigle Newland, Jan Perree and Robert Schaap - see the book reference on this page - brings a bit more light into his art works.
One of the major difficulties in identifiying Japanese prints is the traditional habit of assuming an artist name and changing it more or less frequently. And as most artists did not necessarily abandon an old name, when they took a new one, but continued to use old names as well, the mess is often complete.
Ohara Koson is no exception. His real name was Ohara Matao. Under the artist name Koson Ohara he made a number of war prints of the Russo-Japanese war in 1904/1905. And for the publisher Matsuki Heikichi he made kacho-e in small formats.
In 1912 he changed his name to Shoson Ohara and according to older literature sources had dedicated himself exclusively to painting and had not made any prints until 1926. Today art historians tend to the assumption that he continued to create kacho-e prints - although on a low output level.
From 1927 on the artist used the name Hoson for prints which were published by Sakai-Kawaguchi.
Before the great earthquake in 1923 and afterwards, Ito Shozan was the kacho-e master artist of the publisher Watanabe Shozaburo. From 1926 on Koson took his place. Whether Watanabe was no longer satisfied with Ito Shozan or whether the artist quit voluntarily and for which reasons, we do not know.
After 1926 was Koson's most prolific period. He produced literally hundreds of birds and flower prints. Most were published by Watanabe Shozaburo. But Shoson Ohara - he used this name on all prints published by Watanabe - also cooperated with other publishers - Nishinomiya Yosaku and Sakai-Kawaguchi.
Most of the prints were exported either to the United States or to Europe. Koson prints were exhibited at the second Shin Hanga exhibition in Toledo in the USA in 1936. Thereafter the traces of the artist get lost and it is unknown how long he continued to produce prints.
The total output of kacho-e by Koson Ohara is estimated at about 450.
James Audubon probably would have raised his eyebrows at the sight of Koson's bird images. While James Audubon was not only an artist but an ornithologist who painted his Birds of America from true observation in nature, Koson Ohara had no such ambitions. His bird images are not always biologically accurate. But who cares? Asian painters never had the ambition of documenting the world as it actually is.
The prints by Koson Ohara are highly decorative and should be regarded as works of art of an extremely high technical standard. During the Shin Hanga period the skill of the artisans - woodblock engravers and printers had reached a peak in the history of Japanese printmaking.
Koson prints are highly decorative and put the spectator in a mood of tranquil beauty of nature. Look at a Koson kacho-e, then take another look and try to imagine to become a part of the scene. At this point you will make a decision - whether you like Koson prints or not.
1 object(s) by Koson Ohara 1877-1945 in current auction Japanese Prints - 1101
931 sold object(s) by Koson Ohara 1877-1945 in our Art Archive
4 signature(s) by Koson Ohara in our Signature Database
Author: Dieter Wanczura
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