Ohara Koson was one of the great printmakers of the twentieth century, best known for his kacho-e prints of flowers and birds. Koson, originally Matao, was born in Kanazawa, Ishikawa prefecture. He became a student of Suzuki Kason who was a shijo style painter. Koson later changed his name to first Shoson in 1912 and to Hoson later on. Early in his career, many of Koson’s prints were muted in colour and captured a sense of calmness and elegance. Koson’s depiction of birds are very realistic, the details of body and feathers in particular were always depicted with meticulous care.
Koson started teaching at the Tokyo School of Fine Arts around 1900 where he met Ernest Fenollosa, an American with a great passion for Japanese art. Ernest inspired him to design prints in a traditional Japanese style for export, mainly targeting the US. The Russo-Japanese war renewed demand for traditional woodblock prints in the form of propaganda. Koson hopped on the bandwagon, his work during this time also including some landscapes, but his chief interest remaining rooted in the birds and flowers. Between 1912 and 1926, he changed his name to Shoson and began concentrating on painting. However, he re-started printmaking in 1926 following the Great Tokyo Earthquake. These prints have much brighter colours than his early works, and were exported to America in the hundreds; being displayed at the Toledo exhibition in 1930 and 1936.