Monkey Reaching for the Moon

Title: Monkey Reaching for the Moon
Artist: Ohara Koson (aka. Ohara Shosan)
Date: ca. 1910
Repository: Black Collection, Connecticut College
Designation: black061 – slide0037
Size: 34×18 cm
Medium: Color Woodcut Print
Material: Ink on Paper

This piece features a monkey hanging from a tree limb over a body of water. It is reaching toward the reflection of the moon in the water as if it is trying to touch the moon itself. The form of the monkey is central to the piece as the background is a simple, flat gradient of two colors and there is no visual perspective in the piece. The only two colors used in the print besides different shades of gray are red, which features in the monkey’s face and tail, and blue, which is used to create the impression of water. The monkey’s form is also relatively simple, made up of basic overlapping shapes, but is also quite real-looking with its subtle coloration, sense of animation, and detailed fur, which seems to be pressed on with ink, rather than scratched into the paper like in others of his works, on top of the form of Koson’s monkey. Koson went by several names during his career, such as Shoson/Shosan, but in this piece the name Koson is clearly signed and stamped in kanji: 古邨。

Koson was famous for his prints of animals, and likely exported a number of them to the west. It is suggested that he likely chose the monkey as his subject in this piece because it was considered exotic to western audiences, making it more popular for westerners to buy to satiate their fascination with the “exotic” east. The animal is anthropomorphized, with human-like curiosity and admiration for the beauty of the moon’s reflection, making it relatable, but it is also an animal component of an idyllic natural setting, and is just as much itself a reflection of natural beauty as the water it is reaching toward. This is further emphasized by the monkey’s pose, hanging down with its arm stretched low like the branch it is supporting itself on, bringing unity to the natural scene, even as the monkey stands out against the simple background.


Connecticut College Asian Art Collections:
Connecticut College Japanese Prints Collections Inventory

Author: Benjamin Rothstein

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