The fate of Takahashi Hiroaki was a rather tragic one. When he was 52 years old, the fires after the great Kanto earthquake in 1923 destroyed all 500 woodblock prints he had created. And when he was 74 years old, he visited his daughter in Hiroshima in the summer of 1945. Nobody saw him again.
The artist was born in Tokyo with the given name of Takahashi Katsutaro. He was trained in Nihonga - traditional Japanese painting - by his uncle Matsumoto Fuko.
From 1907 on Takahashi Hiroaki designed large numbers of prints for Watanabe's print shop. He was one of the first printmakers joining the artisan "pool" of Watanabe. The prints were largely exported - mainly to Northern America.
By 1923 he had produced a total of about 500 designs - mostly in Oban or smaller sizes. Then Japan was hit by the Great Kanto earthquake in 1923 - the worst natural catastrophe in the history of Japan. The earthquake and the fires that raged for three days, killed 140,000 people. Watanabe's print shop was completely destroyed - and with it the woodblocks of all 500 prints created by Takahashi Hiroaki. Watanabe and his shin hanga artists had to start from zero - all over again.
Takahashi Hiroaki created about 250 prints after the Kanto earthquake. Most of his designs show scenic Japanese landscapes in typical shin hanga style. He continued to work for Watanabe. But he also published with Fusui Gabo and Shobido Tanaka - probably because he was too much limited in his artistic development by the excellent but rigid businessman Watanabe.
Hiroaki used a variety of names, signatures and seals during his lifetime. From 1907 until 1922 he used the name Shotei and after 1922 Hiroaki or Komei.
Takahashi Hiroaki's daughter lived in Hiroshima. According to Japanese sources, the aging artist had visited his daughter during the summer of 1945. At 8:15 in the morning of August 6, 1945, the Enola Gay, a Boeing B-29 bomber dropped the first atomic bomb in the history of mankind over Hiroshima.
Takahashi Hiroaki, one of the greatest shin hanga artists was never seen again.
Helen Merritt and Nanako Yamada, "Guide to Modern Japanese Woodblock Prints: 1900-1975", published by University of Hawaii Press, Honolulu, ISBN 0-8248-1732-X.
Author: Dieter Wanczura