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Shosan Fox at Pond

Ohara Matao was a printmaker and painter who signed his work as Koson until 1912 and as Shoson from 1912 until his death in 1945. He was born in 1877 in Kanazawa City, Kaga Province, Japan. He studied Shijo painting as a pupil of Suzuki Kason (1860-1919) in Tokyo. He taught at Tokyo School of Fine Arts and served as advisor to Tokyo National Museum.

At the encouragement of Ernst Fenollosa*, Koson made several woodblock prints for export to America. Koson specialized in Kachoga and landscapes. Between 1907 and 1910 Koson's work emphasized birds and flowers of Japan. In 1912, Koson changed his signiture to Shoson and for the next 16 years devoted his energies to painting. In 1926 he returned to woodblock print design of birds and flowers. His work was based on his own sketches. Shoson produced only a few woodblock prints depicting Kitsune, the fox.

The Great Kanto Earthquake of 1 September 1923 suddenly devastated the commerce and collection of woodblock prints in Japan. The earthquake and resulting fire store raged through Tokyo destroying thousands of prints and woodblocks. The Japanese print industry was reduced to ashes. The predominant woodblock printer, Watanabe, reopened in 1924 and encouraged a few of Japan's most accomplished artists to reseed the waning Japanese tradition of woodblock prints by exporting prints to America and Europe. Shoson was one of the first three accomplished artists selected. Watanabe sent virtually all of Shoson's prints abroad to raise much needed opening capital. So popular is Shoson that Japanese scholars who desired to study his works in the 1970s had to import his prints from the United States.

Then as World War II began to escalate, materials were rationed and most printmaking was curtailed. Any woodblock print produced during the war years was limited to only a few hundred copies. Typical of Shoson's work, twenty blocks were used with about twenty-five superimposed printings. Edition sizes were typically 300. Few prints produced during the war remain.

* Ernst Fenollosa (1853-1908). A native of Salem, Massachusetts, Fenollosa went to Japan in 1878 and was appointed Professor of political economy and philosophy at the Imperial University. In 1882 Fenollosa lectured on Japanese Traditions and values, inspiring a redirection of Japanese government policy to increase the awareness of indigenous artistic talents.

In addition to the 150x100 thumbnail image of Shoson's Fox at Pond there is an 800x600 gif image and a 1500x1125 jpeg image linked in sequence. There is also a zipped version of the 800x600 .BMP image in bigk3xz.zip that I use for the desktop background.

lithograph imageCourier and Ives Lithograph