Ohara Shôson (1877-1945, 小原祥邨), born Ohara Matao, also used the art names Ohara Koson (小原古邨) and Hôson (豊邨). It appears that he first became involved with art while attending the Ishikawa Prefecture Technical School (Ishikawa-ken kyôgô gakkô) in 1889-1893, although records corrobrating this have not been located. It is also possible that while at the school he studied with Suzuki Kason (1860-1919), although this, too, has not been fully substantiated. While still in his twenties, Koson (Shôson) submitted Nihonga (Japanese-style: 日本画) paintings of kachôga (flora and fauna, or "birds and flowers": 花鳥画) to competitive exhibitions held by the Nihon Kaiga Kyôkai (Japanese Painting Association) from 1899 to 1902. (In five of the six exhibitions, he received an honorable mentions.) Outside the realm of kachôga, shôson also produced sensô-e (war prints: 戦争絵) during the Russo-Japanese war (1904-05) that show, among other things, some training in the realistic Maruyama-Shijô (円山四条) painting manner.
It is believed that Shôson's entry into woodblock print production began a few years before his work on sensô-e when he produced many designs for the publishers Akiyama Buemon (Kokkeidô) and Matsuki Heikichi (Daikokuya). Working with these two publishers circa 1900-1912, Shôson focused on nature prints designed for the North American and European markets (all were signed "Koson," 古邨). A smaller number of designs were used for prints issued by Nishiomiya Yosaku. Then, between 1912-1926, he returned to painting as "Shôson," and by around 1926 he was also collaborating with the publisher Watanabe Shôsaburô. Shôson also briefly produced prints using the name "Hôson" that were issued by Kawaguchi between 1930-1931; Over the course of his career Shôson is said to have produced more than 450 paintings of birds. Overall, his contribution to the art of the Japanese print encompassed a naturalistic and decorative continuation of the kachôga tradition during the first three decades of the twentieth century. In his many designs Shôson succeeded not only in rendering the material forms of nature, but also in evoking the spirit of the natural world.
Shôson's egret (Egretta garzetta) in snow-covered tree has long been considered a masterpiece of Shin hanga design and by most accounts is the artist's most sought-after print. We are fortunate to be able to offer not only the original image in tanzaku format (poem slip: 短册), but also the extremely rare, reduced-size, lifetime chirimengami ("compressed thread paper": 縮緬紙) state printed from the original blocks and then "creped" by successive compressions of the paper as it is rotated around a cylinder (see illustrated explanation of compression device at Chirimengami Technique). The process reduces the size of the sheet significantly (see image above) and confers a feeling of "fabric" to the paper (See Detail Image).
Another variant state is known with a gray snowy background (far less dramatic). Also, some impressions have little or no embossing.
Prints by Shôson can be found in many public institutions, including the Brooklyn Museum; Cleveland Museum of Art; Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco; Harvard Art Museums; Indianapolis Museum of Art; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam; Smithsonian Museums of Asian Art (Freer/Sackler), Washington, DC; and Toledo Museum of Art.
The Ota Memorial Museum of Art in Tokyo presented an exhibition of the works of Shôson from February 1 to March 24, 2019.
References: Amy Reigle Newland, Jan Perree & Robert Schaap, Crows, Cranes & Camellias. The Natural World of Ohara Koson 1877-1945, Japanese Prints from the Jan Perree Collection. Leiden: Hotei Publishing, 2001, cover image and S14.2, p. 197; Richard Illing, The Art of Japanese Prints. London: Calmann & Cooper, Ltd., 1980, p. 158, no. 183.