Posted By whatsitworth on June 22, 2011
I inherited this picture from my grandmother who got it in the 1930s or 1940s. It measures 14 ¾ by 9 ¾ inches. As far as I know, it has always been in this frame.
On the back is a note that reads “Shoson Yanagibashi in snow. Only landscape he ever made”.
I’ve been lucky enough in my professional career to work with extremely knowledgeable Asian Art specialists. Therefore, I’ve had the luxury of being a bit scholarly lazy when it comes to Asian items. So thank you for your inquiry: I headed straight to the Arts and Music section of the Berkeley Public Library to pour over their collection of books about the art and history of Japanese woodblock prints.
Ukiyo-e is an art form that had its beginnings in the mid 17th century Japan. Loosely translated as “Floating World pictures” ukiyo-e traditionally captures a moment in time in everyday life including portraits of people indulging in pleasures, music, art and theatrical portraits of performers. By the 19th century the form encompassed more and more landscape, floral and birdlife images.
Your work is a woodblock print. These traditional prints were collaborations between the artist who painted the picture, the woodworker who relief carved blocks of wood for each color represented, the printmaker who pulled the colors and the publisher who distributed them. I cannot make out the mark on your image, but the mark is most often a combination of the artist and publisher.
The artist who did your landscape is Ohara Shoson (1877-1945). Born Ohara Matao, he studied art under Susuki Kason. In a tradition of honoring their teachers, artists often took the name or a variant of the name of their mentors. Ohara began using the name Ohara Koson when he began his professional life as an artist and teacher in Tokyo.
While teaching in Tokyo, he met American Ernest Fenollosa, the Harvard and Cambridge educated man who taught philosophy and political economy. Fenollosa was a great lover of Japanese culture and art and was active in the 19th and 20th century revivals of traditional Japanese painting.
(Fenollosa returned to Boston where he became the curator of Japanese Art for Boston’s Museum of Fine Art. Without much notice he divorced his wife and promptly remarried. The MFA fired him immediately.)
Ohara Koson continued to produce woodblock prints throughout the first decade of the 20th century. While he did a few military prints of the Russo-Japanese War, most of his images were of florals and birds and most were produced for the growing Western market. He changed his name to Shoson in 1912 when he gave up printmaking and devoted himself to painting.
The Japanese earthquake and fire in 1923 destroyed print blocks and the printmaking industry as well as the western funds generated by their sales. In 1924, publisher Wantanabe Shozaburo persuaded successful and prolific Japanese artists to collaborate and rebuild the printmaking industry. These later prints were generally done in brighter colors with a more impressionistic style to them.
You print is known as Yanagibashi or Willow Bridge in Snow and it depicts a bridge in Tokyo. It is indeed one of only two landscapes I found by Ohara Shoson and is sought after. Your oban sized Japanese woodblock print would sell for $200-400 at auction.
We have vast resources about Japanese woodblock prints here in the Bay Area. The deYoung Museum has Reading the Floating World: Japanese Ukiyo-e Books running through July 24th; the Asian Art Museum has a lovely collection as does the Scriptum Gallery in Berkeley.