Tokyo: Watanabe, c1923. Woodblock print in colors on laid Japan paper, adhered to a card stock support, as issued. 4 5/8 x 7 inches (115 x 177 mm) (image area), 1/4-inch margins (full, as issued). With the kanji characters Rakutei seal in red ink, lower left image area, and titled and signed in English in pencil on the support (as issued). With the Made in Japan stamp in red ink on the verso, lower margin. A luminous impression of this iconic image with beautiful gradient saturation.
[Shôtei S-49; Watanabe 161].
Born in Tokyo in 1871, Hiroaki Takahashi was working as an artist in an official capacity at an incredibly young age. After an early apprenticeship with his uncle, Matsumoto Fuko (who awarded the young boy the name Shôtei), Takahashi was hired by the Imperial Household Department of Foreign Affairs to copy designs for ceremonial objects.
By the age of 18, Shôtei was a co-founder of the Japan Youth Painting Society, and by 1907 he had been recruited by Shōzoburō Watanabe to produce prints for his Shin Hanga movement. The Shin Hanga ("New Print") movement served to satisfy the widespread demand in the Western world for the export of traditional Ukiyo-e prints in the style of masters like Hiroshige. Shôtei enjoyed tremendous success in this endeavor, however, it was cut devastatingly short in 1923.
On September 1st of 1923, the Great Kanto Earthquake, also known as the Tokyo-Yokohama earthquake of 1923, struck the Tokyo metropolitan area without warning with a magnitude of 7.9. Up until that point in time it was the worst natural disaster recorded in the history of earthquake-prone Japan. The earthquake, which is said to have lasted up to ten mintues, caused a tsunami, a rotational wind burst with a burning core called a "fire whirl," and extensive firestorms, which quickly spread across the main island of Honshū. Watanabe's facility was reduced to ashes, and the inferno took every single woodblock with it. Lucky to have survived the devastation, Shôtei, now having added the name Hiroaki, spent the rest of his life recreating his lost woodblocks, as well as creating a handful of new designs.
There is some speculation that impressions of woodblocks with the kanja characters reading Shôtei, versus Rakutei, may indicate pre-earthquake impressions versus post-earthquake impressions, printed from a block recreated by the artist after his own design. The signature and title on this work would have been added in English by an assistant in preparation for its export to the West. Despite a persistent bit of misinformation that Shôtei died in the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, he actually died of pneumonia in February of 1945, at the age of 74.
Item number: 472