The 1936 Watanabe catalog

Until a few years ago the only sources of lists of Ito Sōzan’s works were web pages such as the website of Hanga Gallery (Durham, North Carolina, USA), the site created by John Resig, the site by Ross Walker or the site with the pages of Richard Reader, as well, of course, as the various museum sites, first of all, the Freer and the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery where the huge collection of Robert Muller merged.

The source with the largest number of Sōzan works currently on the web is the list of Richard Reader (, a Canadian botanist, a passionate lover of Japanese prints with flowers and birds as their subject. His monumental site treats about 3000 prints by over 1000 authors. I am very grateful to Richard Reader, that brought to my attention some absolutely new works.

But the most important historical documentary source for a correct cataloging of Sōzan’s works is certainly the catalog published by his only publisher, Watanabe Shozaburo, first in Japanese in 1935 ( Watanabe mokuhanga mokuroku), and then translated into English in 1936 (Catalog of wood-cut color prints of S. Watanabe, Tokyo, 1936). This catalog, difficult to find in a few libraries around the world (I am grateful to Dr Michal Molcho, of the Sackler Library in Oxford, United Kingdom, for providing me with a good photostatic copy of the catalog) is now available to everyone on the site.

In this catalog the works printed by Watanabe (original prints by contemporary artists and recarved prints by famous authors such as Hiroshige, Hokusai, etc.) are listed in the first part based on size and, in the second part, by author. Of the 28 works by Sōzan in this catalog, 6 of which are illustrated, 27 have been correctly identified.

In my catalog I used the titles assigned by Watanabe in his 1936 catalog, using the same title for the pre-quake version, if any. It is difficult to assign the correct title to the pre-quake Sōzan prints . The problem is not new, as already noted by Marc Kahn on his site on Shotei. Sōzan’s works do not contain inscriptions referable to a title and therefore the titles are those attributed by the various gallery owners with reference to the subject of the print.

In my individual catalog cards, in addition to the title used by Watanabe, I indicated in brackets the most frequent title with which the print is known. For example the nr. WT-02, known as “Looking out” has for title: “Girl at the round window” and the nr. WT-20, known as “Chicken family”, has instead for title: “Cock, hen and chicks”.

The Sōzan prints in the 1936 Watanabe catalog are shown in the below table with the catalog number, title,  name used by Watanabe for the format, size, page number for figures in catalog, if present, and pre-quake print version, if present.

In addition to the book catalog published by Watanabe in 1936, another interesting source of information are the Watanabe “Sales Catalog”,  volume 1 and 2, donated by Philip H. Roach, Jr. in 2006 to the Honolulu Museum of Arts (Honolulu, USA).  These are two sets of loose sheets (30 + 99) containing from 1 to 6 original prints, for a total of 306 prints (87 + 219), some repeated in the two samples. Each print shows the catalog number of Watanabe.

Being small format prints, they are referred to as “Miniature Reproduction” on the site of the Honolulu Museum, but they are not reduced reproductions of large format prints, on the contrary they are authentic prints published by Watanabe. Other copies of these “Sales catalogs” are present in the Muller collection at the Freer & Sackler Gallery at S2003.8.3746.1-.2 (“album of samples of woodblock prints of landscapes, bird-and-flower prints, and prints of women”) and S2003.8.3749 (“album of sample woodblock prints”), not yet consulted.

An examination of the dimensions and names of Sōzan’s prints taken from the catalog of Watanabe of 1936 and from the “sale catalogs” catalog poses some problems.

The small card size (7.2 X 5.1 cm) corresponds to the sizes of the specimens found, which are also very rare. Only the 371 “Japanese robins in snow” is known with this measure in the “Sales catalogs” kept at the Honolulu Museum of Art.

The octavo size (8.5 x 13 cm) is represented by 4 prints all present in the Honolulu Sale Catalog but with slightly larger sizes (11.8 x 17.5 cm). All the specimens I have been able to examine have these measures.

Only one print (Paddy-bird and camellia)  belongs to the narrow card (15.3 x 6.6 cm). The measures found, including those of the two specimens present in the sales catalogs, are slightly shorter: around 13×6.5 cm.

The post card size (15.6×8.5 cm) includes 2 prints: “Girl at the round window” and “Lady with umbrella in snow”. Also here the measurements found are slightly different: about 13 x 8.5 cm.

Of the seven medium size (Chuban format), only the nr. 506 “Cock, hen and chicks” is present in the sales catalogs with the measures 24.8 x 17 cm, identical to those indicated in the 1936 catalog.


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