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Reference » Ukiyo-e »  Artists Biographies

Koson Ohara 1877-1945

Ohara Koson was one of great printmakers in the twentieth century, best known for his kacho-e, prints of flowers and birds.

Koson was born in Kanazawa in Ishikawa prefecture. His original name was Matao. He became a student of Suzuki Kason, a Shijo-style painter. During his study with Kason, he took his artist name Koson, which was perhaps partial adaptation of his teacher's name. His artist name was changed to Shoson in 1912 and Hoson later in his career.

Around 1900 Koson started teaching at the Tokyo School of Fine Arts, where he met Ernest Fenollosa, an American with a great passion for Japanese art. Fenollosa convinced Koson to deign prints in traditional Japanese-style for export, mainly to the United States.

After the Russo-Japanese War irrupted in 1904, Koson, like many ukiyoe artists at the time, began designing war prints. By then people in Japan had lost interest in traditional woodblock prints as a result of the introduction of photography. The war was a chance for these financially troubled ukiyoe artists to get out of poverty as the demand for illustrations of the war was high.

As well as war prints, Koson also made some landscape prints in the 1900's. But his chief interest remained to be birds and flowers. Many of his kachoe were published by Kokkeido and Daikokuya early in his career, and his works around this period were in restraint of bright colours, capturing a certain sense of calmness and elegance.

Changing his artist name to Shoson in 1912, he began concentrating on painting. However, many believe that he created some more prints for Daikokuya using the name Koson.

In 1923, the Great Kanto Earthquake and subsequent fire destroyed much of Tokyo. Watanabe Shozaburo, a Tokyo publisher and the initiator of the Shin Hanga (New Print) movement, lost his workshop in this catastrophic event. His shop was reopened in the following year, and to rebuild his print business he recruited Koson and other renowned printmakers. Koson re-started printmaking in 1926. From then on, many of his print designs, mostly kachoe, were published by Watanabe, though Koson also worked with other publishers including Nishinomiya Yosaku. On the works published by Sakai and Kawaguchi, he used the name Hoson.

Koson's prints after 1926 have much brighter colours than his early works, perhaps because they were aimed at the Western market. His kachoe prints were exported to America in hundreds. In 1930 and 1936, his prints were displayed at the Toledo exhibition.
Koson's depiction of birds are very realistic. The body details, feathers in particular, were done with meticulous care. His kachoe prints are considered among the best depictions of birds created in the 20th century Japan.

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  • A couple of pheasants in the snow, a small stream in the foreground
  • Barn swallow and wisteria
  • Gallinule next to flowering plants