Sōzan print catalog


Each thumbnail refers to a detailed catalog card. x For each card are indicated: format code with serial number, title, format, size, date, image source, museal collections and notes. In addition to a print image, a closeup of the signature and seal is provided, where available, and the Watanabe number if present on the back.


Numbering of the works in this catalog.

The main problem to be solved in a cataloging is the numbering criterion, i.e. which criterion to follow to list the works in question. Sōzan’s prints are no exception.

In my opinion the best criterion would be the chronological one, if all the works were known and if it was possible to establish the exact dating. Unfortunately, this is not the case with either of the two factors. From mid-2015 to the present I have bought (sometimes lost) at auction, or found in other collections, museums or catalogs, 15 new Sōzan prints, previously unknown or not attributed to him, for an average of 5 per year. This number could still rise if a dedicated site had the right feedback from collectors.

If I number the prints in an approximate chronological order and then new ones appear, obviously before 1923, the year of the Great Kanto, I could not insert them in the right place, but only put them in line after the post-Kanto ones, illustrated in the catalog of Watanabe 1936, obviously contrary to a chronological order.

Marc Kahn, creator of the Shotei.com website, solved it by numbering the prints according to their size: O1-O68 for oban, M1-M60 for mitsugiri, C1-C58 for chuban, S1-S156 and ST1-ST181 for smollers, P1-27 for pillar. But it’s about a few hundred prints.

After long afterthoughts, the solution I devised is a chronological-dimensional hybrid using a pair of letters followed by a progressive number:

WT-1-28 for the prints listed in the Watanabe catalog of 1936, adding the letter V (for variant, eg WT4-V1, etc.) in the case of subsequent re-editions

OB-01-03 for the 3 oban hitherto known

TA-01-50 for chu-tanzaku and o-tanzaku

CH-01-21 for chubans and two shikishi

MI-01-06 for mitsugiri

KO-01-16 for koban or other small formats such as Yatsugiri, etc.


Print’s format

I thought to mainly follow  Frederick Harris (Ukiyo-e: The Art of the Japanese Print, 2011), in the classification of formats:

Chuban, 25.5 x 19 cm. “One quarter of an o-bosho.” 17 cm. xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Chu-tanzaku, 38 x 12.7 cm. Half of an o-ban, cut lengthwise. xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Koban, 22.8 x 17.2 cm. Half of an aiban, on which two designs were usually printed at a time. xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Ko-tanzaku, 34.5 x 7.6 cm. One-third of an aiban upright. xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Mitsugiri, 25.5 x 12.8 cm. One-third of an o-ban but divided horizontally the other way from tanzaku. xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx O-ban, 38.2 x 23 cm. The most common sheet size, both vertical and horizontal. Half of an o-bosho. xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx O-tanzaku, 38 x 17 cm. xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Yotsugiri, 19 x 12.5 cm. One quarter of an o-ban.

Yatsugiri, 12.7 x 9.5 cm. Postcard size, 1/2 of koban size

It is interesting to note that Koson, during his collaboration with Kokkeido and Daikokuya, uses only large traditional formats like Naga-Oban, Oban, Tanzaku, and it is only since 1926, with the beginning of the collaboration with Watanabe, that he produces prints of small format.

As we known, Sōzan uses a large number of formats ranging from the Oban to small formats such as the Koban or the Mitsugiri since from the earliest periods. In fact, the scrapbook before 1910 contains 5 Koban and 2 Mitsugiri, testifying  that it is Watanabe itself that requires these formats.xx

Print’s rarity 

To find all the possible prints of Itō Sōzan and, in a second instance, to evaluate their rarity or frequency, I have undertaken a widespread research on the web. In addition to museum sites that preserve historical collections, often fundamental for the construction of this catalog (see the Muller collection at the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery in Washinghton, USA or the Van Vleck Burr collection at the Chazen Museum of Art, Madison, Wisconsin, USA), I consulted two types of “sellers”: Ebay and the art galleries that sell online. Among the latter stands the German company Artelino, which in just under 20 years has sold by itself about 150 specimens of Sōzan prints belonging to 36 different subjects. In addition to the site of Artelino, or other individual galleries, some sites that manage online sales have been extremely useful (Invaluable, Liveauctioneers and Saleroom) or Worthpoint which shows the sales made by Ebay from 2008 to today.

Sōzan prints are often not recognized as such and only the direct knowledge of the subjects depicted or the recognition of the signature or seal, has allowed us to attribute the work to Sōzan. An example is the n. TA-34, “Two quail and moon”, present at the MAK in Vienna, but not attributed to Sōzan.

Sōzan pre-quake prints are generally very rare, often known in one or two copies. Their presence in the museum collections is also scarce, less than in Ohara Koson’s works. For example, in the Robert O. Muller collection there are 29 different subjects by Itō Sōzan, equal to 24% of this catalog, while the works of Ohara Koson are more than 50% of those illustrated in the catalog of Amy Reigle Newland et al.

An other example to evaluate the rarity of Sōzan’s works, here are quotes for prints by Sōzan and Koson found on Worthpoint. The string “Sōzan woodblock” returns today 168 item, while “Koson woodblock” returns 2299, certainly not all perfectly consistent or exact, sometimes repeated, but the disproportion is evident.

Most of the prints in the 1936 Watanabe catalog are an exception, because they are massively destined for the US market. The same Robert Muller has obtained by Watanabe some editions probably including several Itō Sōzan prints.


Copyright: 2020 by Mauro Novelli; All Rights Reserved