Offered here is an exceedingly rare pre-earthquake design, in very fine condition, printed in the “deluxe” chirimen gami-e style. A vivid composition of a dramatic lightning bolt fills the sky as people scurry for cover on the bridge and boats below. We’re only able to fine a total of three copies of this print without any institutional holdings.
In 1923 the publishing firm of Watanabe Shozaburo was destroyed in the fires following the Great Kanto Earthquake. All of the prints and publishing blocks were destroyed, but Watanabe managed to return to business by 1924, and some designs, such as this one, were never re-cut or re-published.
Chirimen-gami-e or chirimengami-e (“compressed thread paper prints”) were crinkled paper prints or “crepe/crepon” prints. Ukiyo-e crepe prints were produced at least as early as 1800 in Edo and were used on occasion for alternate states of some ukiyo-e designs. The compression technique resulted in a highly textured surface and noticeably smaller paper sizes, which offered a different aesthetic from the image printed in standard editions. A noticeable side effect of the technique is the retained richness and vibrancy of the colors. Despite the extra effort involved in making these prints, they were, it seems, more a novelty than an attempt at serious refinement of the printed image.
There was a revival of chirimen-gami-e production in the 1880s with the advent of crepe-paper books to satisfy a growing Western market. Best known are those published by the Hasegawa company; their chirimen-gami publications were especially popular for children’s books, as the crepe paper was somewhat resistant to tearing and thus had a better chance of surviving handling by children.
The Woodblock Print
This o-tanzaku sized woodblock is in very fine condition and measures approximately 12″ x 2 -3/4″ . Strong, gorgeous colors and rich details are contained within the print which has a mostly clean verso and intact margins. A must-have for any shin-hanga collection. There is a small area of minor skinning on the top edge but imperceptible from the front and only when backlit.
About the Artist
Hiroaki Takahashi Shotei (高橋松亭, January 2, 1871 – February 11, 1945), was a prominent Japanese artist known for his woodblock prints and paintings depicting landscapes, cityscapes, and rural scenes. Born in Tokyo, Japan, Shotei showed an early interest in art and began his artistic training at a young age. He later became a member of the influential Shin Hanga, or “new print,” movement, and his works gained widespread recognition for their unique style and artistic excellence.
Takahashi Shotei was born in Tokyo, Japan, in 1871 and was adopted as a young child into the Takahashi family and renamed Takahashi Katsutaro. At the age of 9 he was apprenticed to his uncle, Matsumoto Fuko and began studying painting, and whom according to tradition, gave him his art name “Shotei” a variant of his own surname “Matsumoto”. Shotei was in his mid-teens when he began to work in the design department of the Imperial Household Agency. He began his artistic training at the Kawabata Painting School, where he studied traditional Japanese painting. He later joined the studio of the famous woodblock print artist Ishikawa Toyonobu, who taught him the techniques of printmaking. Shotei’s early works were influenced by the ukiyo-e style, characterized by its use of bold outlines, vivid colors, and intricate details.
Shotei’s talent and dedication to his craft quickly gained recognition, and he became a prominent figure in the Japanese art scene. His works often depicted landscapes, cityscapes, and rural scenes, capturing the beauty of Japan’s natural and cultural landscapes. Shotei’s prints were known for their realistic yet poetic depictions, often incorporating elements of Japanese aesthetics, such as cherry blossoms, lanterns, and traditional architecture.
In 1907 he was recruited as the first artist for Watanabe Shozaburo, and adopted the artist name Shotei, which means “little Hiroshi,” as a homage to the renowned ukiyo-e artist Utagawa Hiroshige. Shotei’s adoption of this name marked a significant turning point in his career, as he began to develop his unique style and gained recognition for his distinctive artistic voice. Watanabe was known for his high-quality publications, and his collaboration with Shotei resulted in a series of prints that became highly sought after by collectors. The collaboration continued for many years, during which Shotei created some of his most iconic works.
One of Shotei’s notable contributions to the woodblock print genre was his skillful depiction of nighttime scenes. He was renowned for his ability to capture the interplay of light and shadow, as well as the atmospheric effects of moonlight and lanterns in his prints. Shotei’s nighttime scenes, often featuring quiet streets, temples, and rural landscapes bathed in a serene glow, were particularly popular and helped establish his reputation as a master of this genre. Many of his large landscape and bijin-ga are signed “Hiroaki,” while “Shotei” appears on other works. Hiroaki was a productive artist, completing around five hundred designs by the time he was fifty. Unfortunately, much of his work was destroyed by the fire that raged in the aftermath of the Great Kanto earthquake in 1923. Despite this tragedy, Hiroaki continued to work as a printmaker until his death in 1945.
After the earthquake Shotei created another 250 prints mostly depicting scenic Japanese landscapes in the shin hanga style he had helped to define. He continued to work for Watanabe, but also worked with the publishers Fusui Gabo and Shobido Tanaka, where he had more control over the finished print than was possible with Watanabe. Shotei used a variety of names, signatures and seals during his lifetime. From 1907 until 1922 he used the name Shotei, and after 1922 Hiroaki and Komei.
Takahashi Shotei’s works continue to be highly regarded and appreciated by collectors and art enthusiasts worldwide. His innovative use of perspective, attention to detail, and poetic depictions of Japan’s landscapes and cityscapes have made him a renowned figure in the history of Japanese printmaking. Despite facing challenges during his lifetime, including the destruction of much of his work during the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923, Shotei’s legacy as a master printmaker and painter lives on through his timeless and evocative works.
- “Takahashi Shotei: The Complete Works” by Marc Kahn
- “The Art of Hiroaki Takahashi (Shotei): A Window to Early 20th Century Japan” by Andreas Marks