Sōzan biography

Itō Sōzan is a Japanese artist who lived in the late ‘800 and early ‘900, a typical exponent of the current known under the name of Shin Hanga (new prints). Little known, its undoubted qualities and its production have been overshadowed by the more famous Ohara Koson (he changed the name to Shoson in honor of Watanabe Shozaburo, using the first part of his name).

He is reported to have been born in 1884, while the death date is unknown, certainly after 1926,  the year when Koson was recruited by Watanabe. The possibility that Itō Sōzan died in 1926 due to causes still unknown to us and that Watanabe was forced to replace him, seems to me a possible hypothesis, supported by the fact that a Sōzan production after 1926 with another publisher does not seem to exist.

Watanabe Shozaburo (1885-1962) began his entrepreneurial and commercial activity commissioning in 1906, at 21 years old, the reproduction of Ukiyoe masters prints (Hiroshige and Hokusai) to be destined for the foreign market, mainly American. He began working with Takahashi Shotei (1871-1945), later known as Hiroaki, in 1907. Shotei was a landscape specialist and he created hundreds of prints for Watanabe. Marc Kahn, the curator of the Shotei.com site, lists 626 of them. Watanabe joined the landscape painter Shotei with another young artist, Ito Sozan, designer of kacho-ga (flowers and birds), in the following year (1908).  (Okamoto Hiromi and Henry D. Smith II 1993).

Although everyone was specialized in own sector , the two artists performed some collaborative work, something quite unusual for the time. Marc Kahn lists 3 works, in oban format, all performed before the 1923 earthquake. I report here the number and title used on his site: O31 Iris at Horikiri; O34 Ferry crossing at Toyoshima; O37 Tennoji Temple, Yanaka.

xxxO31 Iris at Horikiri xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxO34 Ferry crossing at ToyoshimaxxxxxO37 Tennoji Temple, Yanaka

The reasons for the Sōzan substitution with Ohara Koson by Watanabe are not known. Sōzan has no appeal abroad? Is Koson more famous due to his previous activity with Daikokuya?

Another hypothesis is that Sōzan was attached to a more classical style, typical of his works until the 1920s and that Watanabe forced him to a more modern or foreign production, which he didn’t like very much….

As already mentioned, there is also the possibility that Itō Sōzan died in 1926 due to causes still unknown to us.

I initially thought that Sōzan died in 1923 with the Great Kanto of September 1 of that year, but Shimizu Hisao (2014) reports a quote from Ishida Yasuhiro (1974, which I did not see directly) that Watanabe invited Sōzan and Shotei to re-prepare, in the months following the earthquake, drawings of part of the works that were destroyed, perhaps just the post Kanto print versions that we find in the 1936 catalog.

Nothing else is known about Itō Sōzan. The same Watanabe Shozaburo, in his catalog of 1936, reports some biographical data of several artists, but does not mention Sōzan. Also in the two biographies on Watanabe by Ishida Yasuhiko (1974) and his nephew Shoichiro Watanabe (2013), current owner of the gallery, there is no information about this artist. There are no photographs or portraits of Itō Sōzan.


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