Kacho-e is the Japanese word for prints of birds and flowers. And Koson Ohara is the best-known printmaker for kacho-e in the twentieth century. At lifetime his prints were exported in large numbers to the United States.
Koson Ohara was born in Kanazawa in Ishikawa Prefecture in the North of Japan with the given name Ohara Matao. He had studied painting as a student of Suzuki Koson, whose name he adopted as his artist go. During his career he changed his name to Shoson and Hoson. So when you read Ohara Shoson or Ohara Hoson or the other way round as Shoson Ohara or Hoson Ohara, don't be confused. It is the same artist.
In 1904 Koson made Russo-Japanese war prints. That was nothing unusual. Practically all ukiyo-e artists of the time had produced war illustration prints either of the Sino-Japanese (1894/95) or the Russo-Japanese (1904/05) war.
At the time of the Russo-Japanese war, the art of ukiyo-e had come out of fashion and out of business. While the prints with scenes of the Sino-Japanese war (1894-1895) were sometimes sold out within one day, only few were interested in ukiyo-e anymore ten years later. Photography had replaced the woodblock print as a way of illustrating news events.
Ohara Koson was at least not economically affected by the decline of ukiyo-e. He had a steady income as a teacher at the Tokyo School of Fine Arts.
Koson had an American colleague, Ernest Fenellosa, at the Art School. He was an advocate of traditional Japanese art and ironically he was the one who convinced Koson to make woodblock prints in traditional style. His first flower and bird prints in tanzaku format were published by Matsuki Heikichi.
After returning to painting, Koson resumed the design of Kacho-e prints in 1926. Most of them were published by Watanabe Shozaburo, the initiator of the Shin Hanga movement. Practically all prints made by Ohara Koson were exported to the USA. At that time the Japanese had lost any sense for their traditional values. Since late nineteenth century, Japanese art, old and new, was exported to Europe and North America in considerable quantities.
Shoson Ohara bird and animal prints remind the viewer somewhat of watercolors. This is not astonishing looking at the artist's origins as a painter in watercolors and oil.
His kacho-e were performed with an extremely high degree of craftsmanship. Details like the bird's plumage are carefully executed.
Shoson Ohara used different signatures and seals over the years. The precise dating of his prints is sometimes difficult if not impossible. As a rule of thumb, the Koson prints made after 1923, the year of the great earthquake in Japan, have brighter colors than his early works.
Some of the artist's designs were published in different versions with variations in colors.
Prints by Koson Ohara have always been well appreciated by the collector community and by art friends. After the famous collector and dealer Robert O. Muller had passed away in 2003, a large number of first-class Koson prints was made available for the market. It did not damage prices but promoted the appreciation of the artist among collectors and lead to higher prices.
Prices are in a middle range - from a few hundred dollars to $ 2,000 or by far more for a rare print. High bids far above the original reserves have been frequent in our online auctions. Prints in mini size can be purchased starting at $ 100.
Koson Ohara - Amsterdam Rijksmuseum, "Crows, Cranes & Camellias. The Natural World of Ohara Koson 1877-1945. Japanese Prints from the Jan Perree Collection", Catalogue, by Amy Reigle Newland, Jan Perree & Robert Schaap. Amsterdam 2001, ISBN 90-74822-38-x.
Author: Dieter Wanczura