Matsuno Sōfū

photo of the artist at work, c. 1950

Matsuno Sōfū 松野奏風 (1899-1963)1   


Reprinted with the kind permission of the author, Richard J. Smethhurst,

Professor Emeritus, University of Pittsburgh

Matsuno Sōfū was born in 1899 in Shitaya in working class Tokyo, only a few miles to the north of Kōgyo’s [Tsukioka Kōgyo (1869-1927)] birthplace in Nihonbashi. At age twelve, while a first year middle school student, Sōfū began the study of painting with Odake Kokkan, a well known painter of historical subjects. Two years later in 1914, he dropped out of school to apprentice with Kōgyo. In 1915, Sōfū entered his first painting, of the nō play Hagoromo, in a competition, and in 1916, his painting of the fourteenth century warrior Nitta Yoshisada won him, while still a teenager, his first prize in a painting exhibition. In 1920, shortly after the end of World War I, Sōfū was drafted into the military and served in the elite First Konoe Infantry Regiment, stationed near the Imperial Palace in Tokyo. After leaving the army in 1921, Sōfū began, with recommendations from the artists Yamazaki Gakudo and Sakamoto Setchō, to publish nō pictures seriously and received positive reviews. He also produced woodblock prints. In the late 1920s, after Kōgyo’s death, for example, Sôfû created 27 woodblock prints to complete Kōgyo’s Nōga taikan.

Sōfū was involved in a major twentieth century innovation in nô texts. In 1929, he drew the illustrations for the Kanze School’s Kanze-ryû Shōwaban, nō play texts published by the Kanze School of nō. In 1937, with the publication of the Kanze-ryû Taiseiban Utaibon, Kanze Sakon, the head of the Kanze School, and Sōfū revolutionized nō texts by introducing line-drawing illustrations onto the pages of the texts.

Between the penultimate year of World War II in 1944 and Sōfū’s death in 1963, he actively created nō paintings and prints. Unfortunately, there is no catalogue of Sōfū’s oeuvre, although the Matsuno Geibunkan, a small museum dedicated to his work in Yotsukaidō in Chiba Prefecture, has a collection of his paintings and prints. In 1944, Sōfū provided illustrations for a republication of Noel Peri’s classic Le Nō.

Sōfū’s sketches and line-drawings also appear in the three volumes of English-language nō translations published in 1955-60 by the Nippon Gakujutsu Shinkōkai. In 1983, a committee headed by Itō Tatsuo selected one hundred prints (eighty-nine by Kōgyo and eleven by Sōfū) from the joint 1927 series, and republished them as Nōgaku meisaku hyakusen ("A Selection of One Hundred Nō Masterpieces".) The heads of all five nō schools approved the publication and their names appear on the title page.

Sōfū not only produced paintings and prints of nô subjects, but also in 1927 he painted his first of what would be a number of pine tree backdrops for nō stages: this first was in a private home of a former high-ranking retainer of the daimyō of Sendai, and ironically done in the same year that his mentor Kōgyo died of lead poisoning while painting a pine tree backdrop on a stage in the city of Utsunomiya. After World War II, Sōfū painted the pine and bamboo trees on the back of stages at Hakusan Shrine, the Shintô affiliate of Chūsonji Temple at Hiraizumi in Iwate Prefecture, at the Yamamoto nō stage in Osaka, the Kawamura nō stage in Kyoto, and a temple in Kameoka. In December 1958, Sōfū suffered a stroke while painting a pine backdrop for a stage in Osaka—he recovered, but died of another stroke four years later.

小島能舞台鏡板(松野奏風 筆)

Kojima Noh Stage Kagami- ita

(Painted by Matsuno Sōfū)


Photos hanging at the Matsuno Geibunkan of the artist at work.


My notes:

It is unclear whether the playwright Matsuno Sōfū, credited with writing the WWII-era kyogen play Treasure Island (Takara no Shima), is one-in-the-same with this artist.

The website of Scripps College Ruth Chandler Williamson Gallery2 displays three additional series of prints by the artist, Noh Plays (c. 1950-60), Noh Twelve Months and Twelve Months of Noh Pictures c. 1960, jointly designed with his son Matsuno Hideyo (1936-2002) and published by Unsodo Publishing. Ritsumeikan University Art Research Center displays all fifty prints from the series 能姿五十彩 (Fifty Noh Figures in Color) published by 謡曲界発行所 (Yōkyoku-kai Hakkōsho). 

As to Matsuno's work for the series Nōga taikan, the preface to the album in which his prints appear states that he "was drawn to the school of Kōgyo since his boyhood, and it was only natural that he focused increasingly on pictures.  When his master's series of 200 woodblock prints was left unfinished, he contributed over twenty prints to complete the project."3

1Helen Merritt in her article ”Woodblock Prints of the Meiji Era” p. 251, appearing in The Hotei Encyclopedia of Japanese Woodblock Prints, Amy Reigle Newland, Hotei Publishing Company, 2005, gives the artist's birth and death years as (1885-1949) but she is likely confusing this artist with the painter Nagano Sōfū (1885-1949).

2 Website of Scripps College Ruth Chandler Williamson Gallery

3 The Beauty of Silence: Nō and Nature Prints by Tsukioka Kōgyo (1869-1927), Robert Schaap & J. Thomas Rimer, Hotei Publishing, 2010, p. 44.

Examples of Artist's Signature and Seals

奏風 Sōfū

奏風 Sōfū

with unread seal

奏風 Sōfū with Sōfū seal

奏 Sō

with unread seal

奏 Sō

with unread seal

奏 Sō

with likely Sō seal

Prints in Collection

click on thumbnail for print details