Ohara Koson (小原古邨, 1877-1945), also known as Shoson or Hoson, was a Japanese artist who lived from 1877 to 1945. He was born in Kanazawa, Ishikawa Prefecture, and is renowned for his work as a printmaker in the late Meiji, Taisho, and Showa periods. He is considered one of the most important shin-hanga artists of the 20th century.
Koson began his career as the student of Suzuki Koson where he painted plants and animals between 1895-1902 gradually becoming known as a Nihonga painter (a term meaning traditional Japanese vs the increasingly popular Western style) in the Kacho-ga (nature print) genre. Briefly during the Russo-Japanese war Koson produced Senso-e (war prints), but the vast majority of his early prints (1900 -1912) were nature prints designed for the North American and European markets for the publishers Kokkeido and Daikokuya. These prints were all signed “Koson”. Between 1912-1926 Koson returned to painting, but using the name Shoson, he continued to design woodblock prints, this time in collaboration with S. Watanabe. Koson also produced prints using the name Hoson which were published by Kawaguchi between 1930-1931.
Koson is known for his depictions of birds and animals, which were often set in naturalistic landscapes. His prints captured the essence of his subjects with delicate lines and intricate details. Koson was influenced by the work of the Kacho-ga artist Imao Keinen, and his prints reflect a similar interest in the beauty and intricacy of the natural world.
Koson’s work was characterized by a blend of traditional and modern techniques. He was skilled at using traditional woodblock printing techniques, but he also incorporated modern elements such as Western-style perspective and shading. His work was popular in the United States and Europe, where he participated in several international exhibitions.
Koson’s work also reflected the changing cultural and political landscape of Japan during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. He lived through a period of significant modernization and Westernization in Japan, and his art reflects the tension between traditional and contemporary values. Some of his later works feature industrial scenes or Western-style architecture, highlighting the rapid changes that were taking place in Japan at the time.
While the artists’ prints had always been sold abroad, Koson’s success was cemented as a result of the 1930 and 1936 Toledo Museum exhibitions. More prints by Koson were sold during these shows than any other artists’ due to their artistic merit and their relatively inexpensiveness in comparison with of the works of Yoshida, Shinsui, Hasui and others. Koson’s career peaked in the mid 1930’s. His work is realistic, based mainly on his own sketches and watercolors. It is estimated that he produced more than 450 designs of birds.
Despite his popularity during his lifetime, Koson’s work was largely forgotten after his death in 1945. It wasn’t until the 1970s that his prints began to regain popularity among collectors and art enthusiasts. His art was rediscovered during a period of renewed interest in the shin-hanga movement, and his prints were once again recognized for their delicate beauty and technical skill.
Today, Koson’s prints are highly sought after by collectors around the world. His work has been featured in numerous exhibitions, including a major retrospective at the Minneapolis Institute of Art in 2010. His legacy continues to inspire and influence artists in Japan and abroad.