Painting and Engraving.—In Japanese art the impressionist element is predominant. Pictures, as the term is understood in Europe, can scarcely be said to have existed at any time in Japan. The artist did not depict emotion: he depicted the subjects that produce Pictorial Art.emotion. Therefore he took his motives from nature rather than from history; or, if he borrowed from the latter, what he selected was a scene, not the pains or the passions of its actors. Moreover, he never exhausted his subject, but was always careful to leave a wide margin for the imagination of the spectator. This latter consideration sometimes impelled him to represent things which, to European eyes, seem trivial or insignificant, but which really convey hints of deep significance. In short, Japanese pictures are like Japanese poetry: they do not supply thought but only awaken it. Often their methods show conventionalism, but it is conventionalism so perfect and free in its allurements that nature seems to suggest both the motive and the treatment. Thus though neither botanically nor ornithologically correct, their flowers and their birds show a truth to nature, and a habit of minute observation in the artist, which cannot be too much admired. Every blade of grass, each leaf and feather, has been the object of loving and patient study.
It has been rashly assumed by some writers that the Japanese do not study from nature. All their work is an emphatic protest against this supposition. It can in fact be shown conclusively that the Japanese have derived all their fundamental ideas of symmetry, so different from ours, from a close study of nature and her processes in the attainment of endless variety. A special feature of their art is that, while often closely and minutely imitating natural objects, such as birds, flowers and fishes, the especial objects of their predilection and study, they frequently combine the facts of external nature with a conventional mode of treatment better suited to their purpose. During the long apprenticeship that educated Japanese serve to acquire the power of writing with the brush the complicated characters borrowed from Chinese, they unconsciously cultivate the habit of minute observation and the power of accurate imitation, and with these the delicacy of touch and freedom of hand which only long practice can give. A hair’s-breadth deviation in a line is fatal to good calligraphy, both among the Chinese and the Japanese. When they come to use the pencil in drawing, they already possess accuracy of eye and free command of the brush. Whether a Japanese art-worker sets himself to copy what he sees before him or to give play to his fancy in combining what he has seen with some ideal in his mind, the result shows perfect facility of execution and easy grace in all the lines.
The beauties of the human form never appealed to the Japanese artist. Associating the nude solely with the performance of menial tasks, he deemed it worse than a solecism to transfer such subjects to his canvas, and thus a wide field of motive was closed to him. On the other hand, the draped figure received admirable treatment from his brush, and the naturalistic school of the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries reached a high level of skill in depicting men, women and children in motion. Nor has there ever been a Japanese Landseer. Sosen’s monkeys and badgers constitute the one possible exception, but the horses, oxen, deer, tigers, dogs, bears, foxes and even cats of the best Japanese artists were ill drawn and badly modelled. In the field of landscape the Japanese painter fully reached the eminence on which his great Chinese masters stood. He did not obey the laws of linear perspective as they are formulated in the Occident, nor did he show cast shadows, but his aerial perspective and his foreshortening left nothing to be desired. It has been suggested that he deliberately eschewed chiaroscuro because his pictures, destined invariably to hang in an alcove, were required to be equally effective from every aspect and had also to form part of a decorative scheme. But the more credible explanation is that he merely followed Chinese example in this matter, as he did also in linear perspective, accepting without question the curious canon that lines converge as they approach the spectator.
It is in the realm of decorative art that the world has chiefly benefited by contact with Japan. Her influence is second only to that of Greece. Most Japanese decorative designs consist of natural objects, treated sometimes in a more or less conventional manner, but always distinguished Decorative Art.by delicacy of touch, graceful freedom of conception and delightfully harmonized tints. Perhaps the admiration which the Japanese artist has won in this field is due not more to his wealth of fancy and skilful adaptation of natural forms, than to his individuality of character in treating his subjects. There is complete absence of uniformity and monotony. Repetition without any variation is abhorrent to every Japanese. He will not tolerate the stagnation and tedium of a dull uniformity by mechanical reproduction. His temperament will not let him endure the labour of always producing the same pattern. Hence the repetition of two articles exactly like each other, and, generally, the division of any space into equal parts are instinctively avoided, as nature avoids the production of any two plants, or even any two leaves of the same tree, which in all points shall be exactly alike.
The application of this principle in the same free spirit is the secret of much of the originality and the excellence of the decorative art of Japan. Her artists and artisans alike aim at symmetry, not by an equal division of parts, as we do, but rather by a certain balance of corresponding parts, each different from the other, and not numerically even, with an effect of variety and freedom from formality. They seek it, in fact, as nature attains the same end. If we take for instance the skins of animals that are striped or spotted, we have the best possible illustration of nature's methods in this direction. Examining the tiger or the leopard, in all the beauty of their symmetrical adornment, we do not see in any one example an exact repetition of the same stripes or spots on each side of the mesial line. They seem to be alike, and yet are all different. The line of division along the spine, it will be observed, is not perfectly continuous or defined, but in part suggested; and each radiating stripe on either side is full of variety in size, direction, and to some extent in colour and depth of shade. Thus nature works, and so, following in her footsteps, works the Japanese artist. The same law prevailing in all nature's creation, in the plumage of birds, the painting of butterflies' wings, the marking of shells, and in all the infinite variety and beauty of the floral kingdom, the lesson is constantly renewed to the observant eye. Among flowers the orchids, with all their fantastic extravagance and mimic imitations of birds and insects, are especially prolific in examples of symmetrical effects without any repetition of similar parts or divisions into even numbers.
The orchids may be taken as offering fair types of the Japanese artist's ideal in all art work. And thus, close student of nature's processes, methods, and effects as the Japanese art workman is, he ever seeks to produce humble replicas from his only art master. Thus he proceeds in all his decorative work, avoiding studiously the exact repetition of any lines and spaces, and all diametrical divisions, or, if these be forced upon him by the shape of the object, exercising the utmost ingenuity to disguise the fact, and train away the eye from observing the weak point, as nature does in like circumstances. Thus if a lacquer box in the form of a parallelogram is the object, Japanese artists will not divide it in two equal parts by a perpendicular line, but by a diagonal, as offering a more pleasing line and division. If the box be round, they will seek to lead the eye away from the naked regularity of the circle by a pattern distracting attention, as, for example, by a zigzag breaking the circular outline, and supported by other ornaments. A similar feeling is shown by them as colourists, and, though sometimes eccentric and daring in their contrasts, they never produce discords in their chromatic scale. They have undoubtedly a fine sense of colour, and a similarly delicate and subtle feeling for harmonious blending of brilliant and sober hues. As a rule they prefer a quiet and refined style, using full but low-toned colours. They know the value of bright colours, however, and how best to utilize them, both supporting and contrasting them with their secondaries and complementaries.
The development of Japanese painting may be divided into the following six periods, each signalized by a wave of progress. (1) From the middle of the 6th to the middle of the 9th century: the naturalization of Chinese and Chino-Buddhist art. (2) From the middle of the 9th to the Division into Periods. middle of the 15th century: the establishment of great native schools under Kosé no Kanaoka and his descendants and followers, the pure Chinese school gradually falling into neglect. (3) From the middle of the 15th to the latter part of the 17th century: the revival of the Chinese style. (4) From the latter part of the 17th to the latter part of the 18th century: the establishment of a popular school. (5) From the latter part of the 18th to the latter part of the 19th century: the foundation of a naturalistic school, and the first introduction of European influence into Japanese painting; the acme and decline of the popular school. (6) From about 1875 to the present time: a period of transition.
Tradition refers to the advent of a Chinese artist named Nanriu, invited to Japan in the 5th century as a painter of the Imperial banners, but of the labours and influence of this man and of his descendants we have no record. The real beginnings of the study of painting and sculpture First Period. in their higher branches must be dated from the introduction of Buddhism from China in the middle of the 6th century, and for three centuries after this event there is evidence that the practice of the arts was carried on mainly by or under the instruction of Korean and Chinese immigrants.
The native artist who crested the first great wave of Japanese painting was a court noble named Kosé no Kanaoka, living under the patronage of the emperor Seiwa (850—859) and his successors down to about the end of the 9th century, in the midst of a period of peace and Second Period.culture. Of his own work few, if any, examples have reached us; and those attributed with more or less probability to his hand are all representations of Buddhist divinities, showing a somewhat formal and conventional design, with a masterly calligraphic touch and perfect harmony of colouring. Tradition credits him with an especial genius for the delineation of animals and landscape, and commemorates his skill by a curious anecdote of a painted horse which left its frame to ravage the fields, and was reduced to pictorial stability only by the sacrifice of its eyes. He left a line of descendants extending far into the 15th century, all famous for Buddhist pictures, and some engaged in establishing a native style, the Wa-gwa-ryū.
At the end of the 9th century there were two exotic styles of painting, Chinese and Buddhist, and the beginning of a native style founded upon these. All three were practised by the same artists, and it was not until a later period that each became the badge of a school.
The Chinese style (Kara-ryū), the fundamental essence of all Japanese art, has a fairly distinct history, dating back to the introduction of Buddhism into China (A.D. 62), and it is said to have been chiefly from the works of Wu Tao-zu, the master of the 8th century, that Kanaoka Chinese Style. drew his inspiration. This early Chinese manner, which lasted in the parent country down to the end of the 13th century, was characterized by a virile grace of line, a grave dignity of composition, striking simplicity of technique, and a strong but incomplete naturalistic ideal. The colouring, harmonious but subdued in tone, held a place altogether secondary to that of the outline, and was frequently omitted altogether, even in the most famous works. Shadows and reflections were ignored, and perspective, approximately correct for landscape distances, was isometrical for near objects, while the introduction of a symbolic sun or moon lent the sole distinction between a day and a night scene. The art was one of imperfect evolution, but for thirteen centuries it was the only living pictorial art in the world, and the Chinese deserve the honour of having created landscape painting. The materials used were water-colours, brushes, usually of deer-hair, and a surface of unsized paper, translucid silk or wooden panel. The chief motives were landscapes of a peculiarly wild and romantic type, animal life, trees and flowers, and figure compositions drawn from Chinese and Buddhist history and Taoist legend; and these, together with the grand aims and strange shortcomings of its principles and the limited range of its methods, were adopted almost without change by Japan. It was a noble art, but unfortunately the rivalry of the Buddhist and later native styles permitted it to fall into comparative neglect, and it was left for a few of the faithful, the most famous of whom was a priest of the 14th century named Kawo, to preserve it from inanition till the great Chinese renaissance that lent its stamp to the next period. The reputed founder of Japanese caricature may also be added to the list. He was a priest named Kakuyū, but better known as the abbot of Toba, who lived in the 12th century. An accomplished artist in the Chinese manner, he amused himself and his friends by burlesque sketches, marked by a grace and humour that his imitators never equalled. Later, the motive of the Toba pictures, as such caricatures were called, tended to degenerate, and the elegant figures of Kakuyū were replaced by scrawls that often substituted indecency and ugliness for art and wit. Some of the old masters of the Yamato school were, however, admirable in their rendering of the burlesque, and in modern times Kyōsai, the last of the Hokusai school, outdid all his predecessors in the riotous originality of his weird and comic fancies. A new phase of the art now lives in the pages of the newspaper press.
The Buddhist style was probably even more ancient than the Chinese, for the scheme of colouring distinctive of the Buddhist picture was almost certainly of Indian origin; brilliant and decorative, and heightened by a lavish use of Buddhist Style. gold, it was essential to the effect of a picture destined for the dim light of the Buddhist temple. The style was applied only to the representations of sacred personages and scenes, and as the traditional forms and attributes of the Brahmanic and Buddhist divinities were mutable only within narrow limits, the subjects seldom afforded scope for originality of design or observation of nature. The principal Buddhist painters down to the 14th century were members of the Kosé, Takuma and Kasuga lines, the first descended from Kanaoka, the second from Takuma Taméuji (ending 10th century), and the third from Fujiwara no Motomitsu (11th century). The last and greatest master of the school was a priest named Meicho, better known as Chō Densu, the Japanese Fra Angelico. It is to him that Japan owes the possession of some of the most stately and most original works in her art, sublime in conception, line and colour, and deeply instinct with the religious spirit. He died in 1427, at the age of seventy-six, in the seclusion of the temple where he had passed the whole of his days.
The native style, Yamato or Wa-gwa-ryū, was an adaptation of Chinese art canons to motives drawn from the court life, poetry and stories of old Japan. It was undoubtedly practised by the Kose line, and perhaps by their predecessors, but it did not take shape as a school until the Native Style.beginning of the 11th century under Fujiwara no Motomitsu, who was a pupil of Kose no Kinmochi; it then became known as Yamato-ryū, a title which two centuries later was changed to that of Tosa, on the occasion of one of its masters, Fujiwara no Tsunetaka, assuming that appellation as a family name. The Yamato-Tosa artists painted in all styles, but that which was the speciality of the school, to be found in nearly all the historical rolls bequeathed to us by their leaders, was a lightly-touched outline filled in with flat and bright body-colours, in which verdigris-green played a great part. The originality of the motive did not prevent the adoption of all the Chinese conventions, and of some new ones of the artist’s own. The curious expedient of spiriting away the roof of any building of which the artist wished to show the interior was one of the most remarkable of these. Amongst the foremost names of the school are those of Montomitsu (11th century), Nobuzane (13th century), Tsunetaka (13th century), Mitsunobu (15th and 16th centuries), his son Mitsushige, and Mitsuōki (17th century). The struggle between the Taira and Minamoto clans for the power that had long been practically abandoned by the Imperial line lasted through the 11th and the greater part of the 12th centuries, ending only with the rise of Yoritomo to the shōgunate in 1185. These internecine disturbances had been unfavourable to any new departure in art, except in matters appertaining to arms and armour, and the strife between two puppet emperors for a shadow of authority in the 14th century brought another distracting element. It was not until the triumph of the northern dynasty was achieved through the prowess of an interested champion of the Ashikaga clan that the culture of ancient Japan revived. The palace of the Ashikaga shōguns then replaced the Imperial court as the centre of patronage of art and literature and established a new era in art history.
Towards the close of the Ashikaga shōgunate painting entered on a new phase. Talented representatives of the Kose, Takuma and Tosa lines maintained the reputation of the native and Buddhist schools, and the long-neglected Chinese school was destined to undergo a vigorous Third Period.revival. The initiation of the new movement is attributed to a priest named Jôsetsu, who lived in the early part of the 15th century, and of whom little else is known. It is not even certain whether he was of Chinese or Japanese birth; he is, however, believed by some authorities to have been the teacher of three great artists—Shūbun, Sesshū and Kano Masanobu—who became the leaders of three schools: Shūbun, that of the pure Chinese art of the Sung and Yuan dynasties (10th and 13th centuries); Sesshū, that of a modified school bearing his name; and Masanobu, of the great Kano school, which has reached to the present day. The qualities of the new Chinese schools were essentially those of the older dynasties: breadth, simplicity, a daringly calligraphic play of brush that strongly recalled the accomplishments of the famous scribes, and a colouring that varied between sparing washes of flat local tints and a strength and brilliancy of decorative effort that rivalled even that of the Buddhist pictures. The motives remained almost identical with those of the Chinese masters, and so imbued with the foreign spirit were many of the Japanese disciples that it is said they found it difficult to avoid introducing Chinese accessories even into pictures of native scenery.
A new era in art began in the latter half of the 17th century with the establishment of a popular school under an embroiderer’s draughtsman named Hishigawa Moronobu (c. 1646–1713). Perhaps no great change is ever entirely a novelty. The old painters of the Yamato-Tosa line Fourth Period: Popular School.had frequently shown something of the daily life around them, and one of the later scions of the school, named Iwasa Matahei, had even made a speciality of this class of motive; but so little is known of Matahei and his work that even his period is a matter of dispute, and the few pictures attributed to his pencil are open to question on grounds of authenticity. He probably worked some two generations before the time of Moronobu, but there is no reason to believe that his labours had any material share in determining the creation and trend of the new school.
Moronobu was a consummate artist, with all the delicacy and calligraphic force of the best of the Tosa masters, whom he undoubtedly strove to emulate in style; and his pictures are not only the most beautiful but also the most trustworthy records of the life of his time. It was not to his paintings, however, that he owed his greatest influence, but to the powerful impulse he gave to the illustration of books and broadsides by wood-engravings. It is true that illustrated books were known as early as 1608, if not before, but they were few and unattractive, and did little to inaugurate the great stream of ehon, or picture books, that were to take so large a share in the education of his own class. It is to Moronobu that Japan owes the popularization of artistic wood-engravings, for nothing before his series of xylographic albums approached his best work in strength and beauty, and nothing since has surpassed it. Later there came abundant aid to the cause of popular art, partly from pupils of the Kano and Tosa schools, but mainly from the artisan class. Most of these artists were designers for books and broadsides by calling, painters only on occasion, but a few of them did nothing for the engravers. Throughout the whole of this period, embracing about a hundred years, there still continued to work, altogether apart from the men who were making the success of popular art, a large number of able painters of the Kano, Tosa and Chinese schools, who multiplied pictures that had every merit except that of originality. These men, living in the past, paid little attention to the great popular movement, which seemed to be quite outside their social and artistic sphere and scarcely worthy of cultured criticism. It was in the middle of the 18th century that the decorative, but relatively feeble, Chinese art of the later Ming period found favour in Japan and a clever exponent in a painter named Ryūrikyō. It must be regarded as a sad decadence from the old Chinese ideals, which was further hastened, from about 1765, by the popularity of the southern Chinese style. This was a weak affectation that found its chief votaries amongst literary men ambitious of an easily earned artistic reputation. The principal Japanese supporter of this school was Taigadō (1722–1775), but the volume of copies of his sketches, Taigadō sansui juseki, published about 1870, is one of the least attractive albums ever printed in Japan.
The fifth period was introduced by a movement as momentous as that which stamped its predecessor—the foundation of a naturalistic school under a group of men outside the orthodox academical circles. The naturalistic principle was by no means a new one; some of the old Chinese Fifth Period: Naturalistic School.masters were naturalistic in a broad and noble manner, and their Japanese followers could be admirably and minutely accurate when they pleased; but too many of the latter were content to construct their pictures out of fragmentary reminiscences of ancient Chinese masterpieces, not presuming to see a rock, a tree, an ox, or a human figure, except through Chinese spectacles. It was a farmer’s son named Okyō, trained in his youth to paint in the Chinese manner, who was first bold enough to adopt as a canon what his predecessors had only admitted under rare exceptions, the principle of an exact imitation of nature. Unfortunately, even he had not all the courage of his creed, and while he would paint a bird or a fish with perfect realism, he no more dared to trust his eyes in larger motives than did the most devout follower of Shūbun or Motonobu. He was essentially a painter of the classical schools, with the speciality of elaborate reproduction of detail in certain sections of animal life, but fortunately this partial concession to truth, emphasized as it was by a rare sense of beauty, did large service.
It remains only to allude to the European school, if school it can be called, founded by Kokan and Denkichi, two contemporaries of Okyō. These artists, at first educated in one of the native schools, obtained from a Hollander in Nagasaki some training in the methods and principles European School.of European painting, and left a few oil paintings in which the laws of light and shade and perspective were correctly observed. They were not, however, of sufficient capacity to render the adopted manner more than a subject of curiosity, except to a few followers who have reached down to the present generation. It is possible that the essays in perspective found in the pictures of Hokusai, Hiroshige, and some of the popular artists of the 19th century, were suggested by Kokan’s drawings and writings.
The sixth period began about 1875, when an Italian artist was engaged by the government as a professor of painting in the Engineering College at Tōkyō. Since that time some distinguished European artists have visited Japan, and several Japanese students have made a pilgrimage Sixth Period.to Europe to see for themselves what lessons may be gained from Western art. These students, confronted by a strong reaction in favour of pure Japanese art, have fought manfully to win public sympathy, and though their success is not yet crowned, it is not impossible that an Occidental school may ultimately be established. Thus far the great obstacle has been that pictures painted in accordance with Western canons are not suited to Japanese interiors and do not appeal to the taste of the most renowned Japanese connoisseurs. Somewhat more successful has been an attempt—inaugurated by Hashimoto Gahō and Kawabata Gyokusho—to combine the art of the West with that of Japan by adding to the latter the chiaroscuro and the linear perspective of the former. If the disciples of this school could shake off the Sesshū tradition of strong outlines and adopt the Kano Motonobu revelation of modelling by mass only, their work would stand on a high place. But they, too, receive little encouragement. The tendency of the time is conservative in art matters.
Although a little engraving on copper has been practised in Japan of late years, it is of no artistic value, and the only branch of the art which calls for recognition is the cutting of wood-blocks for use either with colours or without. This, however, is of supreme importance, and as Engraving.its technique differs in most respects from the European practice, it demands a somewhat detailed description.
The origins of this method of colour-printing are obscure. It has been practised to some extent in China and Korea, but there is no evidence of its antiquity in these countries. It appears to be one of the few indigenous arts of Japan. But before accepting this conclusion as final, one must not lose sight of the fact that the so-called chiaroscuro engraving was at the height of its use in Italy at the same time that embassies from the Christians in Japan visited Rome, and that it is thus possible that the suggestion at least may have been derived from Europe. The fact that no traces of it have been discovered in Japan would be easily accounted for, when it is remembered that the examples taken home would almost certainly have been religious pictures, would have been preserved in well-known and accessible places, and would thus have been entirely destroyed in the terrible and minute extermination of Christianity by Hideyoshi at the beginning of the 17th century. Japanese tradition ascribes the invention of colour-printing to Idzumiya Gonshirō, who, about the end of the 17th century, first made use of a second block to apply a tint of red (beni) to his prints. Sir Ernest Satow states more definitely that "Sakakibara attributes its origin to the year 1695, when portraits of the actor Ichikawa Danjiuro, coloured by this process, were sold in the streets of Yedo for five cash apiece." The credit of the invention is also given to Torii Kiyonobu, who worked at about this time, and, indeed, is said to have made the prints above mentioned. But authentic examples of his work now remaining, printed in three colours, seem to show a technique too complete for an origin quite so recent. However, he is the first artist of importance to have produced the broadsheets—for many years chiefly portraits of notable actors, historical characters and famous courtesans—which are the leading and characteristic use to which the art was applied. Pupils, the chief of whom were Kiyomasa, Kiyotsume, Kiyomitsu, Kiyonaga and Kiyomine, carried on his tradition until the end of the 18th century, the three earlier using but few colours, while the works of the two last named show a technical mastery of all the capabilities of the process.
The history of the illustrated book in Japan may be said to begin with the Ise monogatari, a romance first published in the 10th century, of which an edition adorned with woodcuts appeared in 1608. In the course of the 17th century many other works of the same nature were issued, including some in which Book Illustration.the cuts were roughly coloured by hand; but the execution of these is not as good as contemporary European work. The date of the first use of colour-printing in Japanese book illustration is uncertain. In 1667 a collection of designs for kimono (garments) appeared, in which inks of several colours were made use of; but these were only employed in turn for single printings, and in no case were two of them used on the same print. It is certain, however, that the mere use of coloured inks must soon have suggested the combination of two or more of them, and it is probable that examples of this will be discovered much earlier in date than those known at present.
Sculpture and Carving.—Sculpture in wood and metal is of ancient date in Japan. Its antiquity is not, indeed, comparable to that of ancient Egypt or Greece, but no country besides Japan can boast a living and highly developed art that has Historical Sketch. numbered upwards of twelve centuries of unbroken and brilliant productiveness. Setting aside rude prehistoric essays in stone and metal, which have special interest for the antiquary, we have examples of sculpture in wood and metal, magnificent in conception and technique, dating from the earliest periods of what we may term historical Japan; that is, from near the beginning of the great Buddhist propaganda under the emperor Kimmei (540–571) and the princely hierarch, Shōtoku Taishi (573–621). Stone has never been in favour in Japan as a material for the higher expression of the sculptor’s art.
The first historical period of glyptic art in Japan reaches from the end of the 6th to the end of the 12th century, culminating in the work of the great Nara sculptors, Unkei and his pupil Kwaikei. Happily, there are still preserved in the great temples of Japan, chiefly in the First Period.ancient capital of Nara, many noble relics of this period.
The most perfect of the ancient bronzes is the great image of Bhaicha-djyaguru in the temple of Yakushi-ji, Nara, attributed to a Korean monk of the 7th century, named Giōgi. The bronze image of the same divinity at Hōryū-ji, said to have been cast at the beginning of the 7th century by Tori Busshi, the grandson of a Chinese immigrant, is of good technical quality, but much inferior in design to the former. The colossal Nara Daibutsu (Vairocana) at Tōdai-ji, cast in 749 by a workman of Korean descent, is the largest of the great bronzes in Japan, but ranks far below the Yakushi-ji image in artistic qualities. The present head, however, is a later substitute for the original, which was destroyed by fire.
The great Nara school of sculpture in wood was founded in the early part of the 11th century by a sculptor of Imperial descent named Jōchō, who is said to have modelled his style upon that of the Chinese wood-carvers of the Tang dynasty; his traditions were maintained by descendants and followers down to the beginning of the 13th century. All the artists of this period were men of aristocratic rank and origin, and were held distinct from the carpenter-architects of the imposing temples which were to contain their works.
Sacred images were not the only specimens of glyptic art produced in these six centuries; reliquaries, bells, vases, incense-burners, candlesticks, lanterns, decorated arms and armour, and many other objects, showing no less mastery of design and execution, have reached us. Gold and silver had been applied to the adornment of helmets and breastplates from the 7th century, but it was in the 12th century that the decoration reached the high degree of elaboration shown us in the armour of the Japanese Bayard, Yoshitsunē, which is still preserved at Kasuga, Nara.Wooden masks employed in the ancient theatrical performances were made from the 7th century, and offer a distinct and often grotesque phase of wood-carving. Several families of experts have been associated with this class of sculpture, and their designs have been carefully preserved and imitated down to the present day.
The second period in Japanese glyptic art extends from the beginning of the 13th to the early part of the 17th century. The great struggle between the Taira and Minamoto clans had ended, but the militant spirit was still strong, and brought work for the artists who made and ornamented arms and armour. The Miyōchins, a line that claimed ancestry from theSecond Period. 7th century, were at the head of their calling, and their work in iron breastplates and helmets, chiefly in repoussé, is still unrivalled. It was not until the latter half of the 15th century that there came into vogue the elaborate decoration of the sword, a fashion that was to last four hundred years.
The third period includes the 17th, 18th and the greater part of the 19th centuries. It was the era of the artisan artist. The makers of Buddhist images and of sword ornaments carried on their work with undiminished industry and success, and some famous schools of the latter Third Period.arose during this period. The Buddhist sculptors, however, tended to grow more conventional and the metal-workers more naturalistic as the 18th century began to wane. It was in connexion with architecture that the great artisan movement began. The initiator was Hidari Jingoro (1594–1652), at first a simple carpenter, afterwards one of the most famous sculptors in the land of great artists. The gorgeous decoration of the mausoleum of Iyeyasu at Nikkō, and of the gateway of the Nishi Hongwan temple at Kiōto, are the most striking instances of his handiwork or direction.
A little later arose another art industry, also emanating from the masses. The use of tobacco, which became prevalent in the 17th century, necessitated the pouch. In order to suspend this from the girdle there was employed a kind of button or toggle—the netsuke. The metallic bowl and mouthpiece of the pipe offered a tempting surface for embellishment, as well as the clasp of the pouch; and the netsuke, being made of wood, ivory or other material susceptible of carving, also gave occasion for art and ingenuity.
The engravers of pipes, pouch clasps, and the metallic discs (kagami-buta) attached to certain netsuke, sprang from the same class and were not less original. They worked, too, with a skill little inferior to that of the Gotōs, Naras, and other aristocratic sculptors of sword ornaments, and often with a refinement which their relative disadvantages in education and associations render especially remarkable. The netsuke and the pipe, with all that pertained to it, were for the commoners what the sword-hilt and guard were for the gentry. Neither class cared to bestow jewels upon their persons, but neither spared thought or expense in the embellishment of the object they most loved. The final manifestation of popular glyptic art was the okimono, an ornament pure and simple, in which utility was altogether secondary in intention to decorative effect. Its manufacture as a special branch of art work dates from the rise of the naturalistic school of painting and the great expansion of the popular school under the Katsugawa, but the okimono formed an occasional amusement of the older glyptic artists. Some of the most exquisite and most ingenious of these earlier productions, such as the magnificent iron eagle in the South Kensington Museum, the wonderful articulated models of crayfish, dragons, serpents, birds, that are found in many European collections, came from the studios of the Miyōchins; but these were the play of giants, and were not made as articles of commerce. The new artisan makers of the okimono struck out a line for themselves, one influenced more by the naturalistic and popular schools than by the classical art, and the quails of Kamejo, the tortoises of Seimin, the dragons of Tōun and Tōryū, and in recent years the falcons and the peacocks of Suzuki Chokichi, are the joy of the European collector. The best of these are exquisite in workmanship, graceful in design, often strikingly original in conception, and usually naturalistic in ideal. They constitute a phase of art in which Japan has few rivals.
The present generation is more systematically commercial in its glyptic produce than any previous age. Millions of commercial articles in metal-work, wood and ivory flood the European markets, and may be bought in any street in Europe at a small price, but they offer a variety of design and an excellence of workmanship which place them almost beyond Western competition. Above all this, however, the Japanese sculptor is a force in art. He is nearly as thorough as his forefathers, and maintains the same love of all things beautiful; and if he cannot show any epoch-making novelty, he is at any rate doing his best to support unsurpassed the decorative traditions of the past.
History has been eminently careful to preserve the names and records of the men who chiselled sword furniture. The sword being regarded as the soul of the samurai, every one who contributed to its manufacture, whether as forger of the blade or sculptor of the Sword-making Families. furniture, was held in high repute. The Gotō family worked steadily during 14 generations, and its 19th century representative—Gotō Ichijō—will always be remembered as one of the family’s greatest experts. But there were many others whose productions fully equalled and often excelled the best efforts of the Gotō. The following list gives the names and periods of the most renowned families:—
(It should be noted that the division by centuries indicates the time of a family’s origin. In a great majority of cases the representatives of each generation worked on through succeeding centuries).
Miyōchin; Gotō; Umetada; Muneta; Aoki; Sōami; Nakai.
Kuwamura; Mizuno; Koichi; Nagayoshi;
Kuninaga; Yoshishige; Katsugi; Tsuji;
Muneyoshi; Tadahira; Shōami; Hosono;
Yokoya; Nara; Okada; Okamoto; Kinai; Akao;
Yoshioka; Hirata; Nomura; Wakabayashi; Inouye;
Yasui; Chiyo; Kaneko; Uemura; Iwamoto.
Gorobei; Shōemon; Kikugawa; Yasuyama; Noda; Tamagawa; Fujita; Kikuoka; Kizaemon; Hamano; Ōmori; Okamoto; Kashiwaya; Kusakari; Shichibei; Itō.
Natsuo; Ishiguro; Yanagawa; Honjo; Tanaka; Okano; Kawarabayashi; Oda; and many masters of the Ōmori, Hamano and Iwamoto families, as well as the five experts, Shuraku, Temmin, Ryūmin, Minjō and Minkoku. (W. An.; F. By.)
There is a radical difference between the points of view of
the Japanese and the Western connoisseur in estimating the
merits of sculpture in metal. The quality of the
chiselling is the first feature to which the Japanese
directs his attention; the decorative design is the
of View. prime object of the Occidental’s attention. With very rare exceptions, the decorative motives of Japanese sword furniture were always supplied by painters. Hence it is that the Japanese connoisseur draws a clear distinction between the decorative design and its technical execution, crediting the former to the pictorial artist and the latter to the sculptor. He detects in the stroke of a chisel and the lines of a graving tool subjective beauties which appear to be hidden from the great majority of Western dilettanti. He estimates the rank of a specimen by the quality of the chisel-work. The Japanese kinzoku-shi (metal sculptor) uses thirty-six principal classes of chisel, each with its distinctive name, and as most of these classes comprise from five to ten sub-varieties, his cutting and graving tools aggregate about two hundred and fifty.
Scarcely less important in Japanese eyes than the chiselling of the decorative design itself is the preparation of the field to which it is applied. There used to be a strict canon with reference to this in former times. Namako (fish-roe) grounds were essential for the mountings The Field for Sculptured Decoration. of swords worn on ceremonial occasions, the ishime (stone-pitting) or jimigaki (polished) styles being considered less aristocratic.
Namako is obtained by punching the whole surface—except the portion carrying the decorative design—into a texture of microscopic dots. The first makers of namako did not aim at regularity in the distribution of these dots; they were content to produce the effect of millet-seed sifted haphazard over the surface. But from the 15th century the punching of the dots in rigidly straight lines came to be considered essential, and the difficulty involved was so great that namako-making took its place among the highest technical achievements of the sculptor. When it is remembered that the punching tool was guided solely by the hand and eye, and that three or more blows of the mallet had to be struck for every dot, some conception may be formed of the patience and accuracy needed to produce these tiny protuberances in perfectly straight lines, at exactly equal intervals and of absolutely uniform size. Namako disposed in straight parallel lines originally ranked at the head of this kind of work. But a new kind was introduced in the 16th century. It was obtained by punching the dots in intersecting lines, so arranged that the dots fell uniformly into diamond-shaped groups of five each. This is called go-no-me-namako, because of its resemblance to the disposition of chequers in the Japanese game of go. A century later, the daimyō namako was invented, in which lines of dots alternated with lines of polished ground. Ishime may be briefly described as diapering. There is scarcely any limit to the ingenuity and skill of the Japanese expert in diapering a metal surface. It is not possible to enumerate here even the principal styles of ishime, but mention may be made of the zara-maki (broad-cast), in which the surface is finely but irregularly pitted after the manner of the face of a stone; the nashi-ji (pear-ground), in which we have a surface like the rind of a pear; the hari-ishime (needle ishime), where the indentations are so minute that they seem to have been made with the point of a needle; the gama-ishime, which is intended to imitate the skin of a toad; the tsuya-ishime, produced with a chisel sharpened so that its traces have a lustrous appearance; the ore-kuchi (broken-tool), a peculiar kind obtained with a jagged tool; and the gozamé, which resembles the plaited surface of a fine straw mat.
Great importance has always been attached by Japanese experts to the patina of metal used for artistic chiselling. It was mainly for the sake of their patina that value attached to the remarkable alloys shakudo (3 parts of gold to 97 of copper) and shibuichi (1 part of silver to 3 of copper). Neither Patina. metal, when it emerges from the furnace, has any beauty, shakudo being simply dark-coloured copper and shibuichi pale gun-metal. But after proper treatment the former develops a glossy black patina with violet sheen, and the latter shows beautiful shades of grey with silvery lustre. Both these compounds afford delicate, unobtrusive and effective grounds for inlaying with gold, silver and other metals, as well as for sculpture, whether incised or in relief. Copper, too, by patina-producing treatment, is made to show not merely a rich golden sheen with pleasing limpidity, but also red of various hues, from deep coral to light vermilion, several shades of grey, and browns of numerous tones from dead-leaf to chocolate. Even greater value has always been set upon the patina of iron, and many secret recipes were preserved in artist families for producing the fine, satin-like texture so much admired by all connoisseurs.
In Japan, as in Europe, three varieties of relief carving are distinguished—alto (taka-bori), mezzo (chūniku-bori) and basso (usuniku-bori). In the opinion of the Japanese expert, these styles hold the same respective rank as that occupied by the three kinds of ideographic script in caligraphy. High relief Methods of Chiselling. carving corresponds to the kaisho, or most classical form of writing; medium relief to the gyōsho, or semi-cursive style; and low relief to the sōsho or grass character. With regard to incised chiselling, the commonest form is kebori (hair-carving), which may be called engraving, the lines being of uniform thickness and depth. Very beautiful results are obtained by the kebori method, but incomparably the finest work in the incised class is that known as kata-kiri-bori. In this kind of chiselling the Japanese artist can claim to be unique as well as unrivalled. Evidently the idea of the great Yokoya experts, the originators of the style, was to break away from the somewhat formal monotony of ordinary engraving, where each line performs exactly the same function, and to convert the chisel into an artist’s brush instead of using it as a common cutting tool. They succeeded admirably. In the kata-kiri-bori every line has its proper value in the pictorial design, and strength and directness become cardinal elements in the strokes of the burin just as they do in the brushwork of the picture-painter. The same fundamental rule applied, too, whether the field of the decoration was silk, paper or metal. The artist’s tool, be it brush or burin, must perform its task by one effort. There must be no appearance of subsequent deepening, or extending, or re-cutting or finishing. Kata-kiri-bori by a great expert is a delight. One is lost in astonishment at the nervous yet perfectly regulated force and the unerring fidelity of every trace of the chisel. Another variety of carving much affected by artists of the 17th century, and now largely used, is called shishi-ai-bori or niku-ai-bori. In this style the surface of the design is not raised above the general plane of the field, but an effect of projection is obtained either by recessing the whole space immediately surrounding the design, or by enclosing the latter in a scarped frame. Yet another and very favourite method, giving beautiful results, is to model the design on both faces of the metal so as to give a sculpture in the round. The fashion is always accompanied by chiselling à jour (sukashi-bori), so that the sculptured portions stand out in their entirety.
Inlaying with gold or silver was among the early forms of decoration in Japan. The skill developed in modern times is at least equal to anything which the past can show, and the results produced are much more imposing. There are two principal kinds of inlaying: the first called hon-zōgan (true Inlaying. inlaying), the second nunome-zōgan (linen-mesh inlaying). As to the former, the Japanese method does not differ from that seen in the beautiful iron censers and vases inlaid with gold which the Chinese produced from the Süen-tē era (1426–1436). In the surface of the metal the workman cuts grooves wider at the base than at the top, and then hammers into them gold or silver wire. Such a process presents no remarkable features, except that it has been carried by the Japanese to an extraordinary degree of elaborateness. The nunome-zōgan is more interesting. Suppose, for example, that the artist desires to produce an inlaid diaper. His first business is to chisel the surface in lines forming the basic pattern of the design. Thus, for a diamond-petal diaper the chisel is carried across the face of the metal horizontally, tracing a number of parallel bands divided at fixed intervals by ribs which are obtained by merely straightening the chisel and striking it a heavy blow. The same process is then repeated in another direction, so that the new bands cross the old at an angle adapted to the nature of the design. Several independent chisellings may be necessary before the lines of the diaper emerge clearly, but throughout the whole operation no measurement of any kind is taken, the artist being guided entirely by his hand and eye. The metal is then heated, not to redness, but sufficiently to develop a certain degree of softness, and the workman, taking a very thin sheet of gold (or silver), hammers portions of it into the salient points of the design. In ordinary cases this is the sixth process. The seventh is to hammer gold into the outlines of the diaper; the eighth, to hammer it into the pattern filling the spaces between the lines, and the ninth and tenth to complete the details. Of course the more intricate the design the more numerous the processes. It is scarcely possible to imagine a higher effort of hand and eye than this nunome-zōgan displays, for while intricacy and elaborateness are carried to the very extreme, absolute mechanical accuracy is obtained. Sometimes in the same design we see gold of three different hues, obtained by varying the alloy. A third kind of inlaying, peculiar to Japan, is sumi-zōgan (ink-inlaying), so called because the inlaid design gives the impression of having been painted with Indian ink beneath the transparent surface of the metal. The difference between this process and ordinary inlaying is that for sumi-zōgan the design to be inlaid is fully chiselled out of an independent block of metal with sides sloping so as to be broader at the base than at the top. The object which is to receive the decoration is then channelled in dimensions corresponding to those of the design block, and the latter having been fixed in the channels, the surface is ground and polished until an intimate union is obtained between the inlaid design and the metal forming its field. Very beautiful effects are thus produced, for the design seems to have grown up to the surface of the metal field rather than to have been planted in it. Shibuichi inlaid with shakudo used to be the commonest combination of metals in this class of decoration, and the objects usually depicted were bamboos, crows, wild-fowl under the moon, peony sprays and so forth.
A variety of decoration much practised by early experts, and carried to a high degree of excellence in modern times, is mokume-ji (wood-grained ground). The process in this case is to take a thin plate of metal and beat it into another plate of similar metal, so that the two, though welded together, Wood-grained Grounds. retain their separate forms. The mass, while still hot, is coated with hena-tsuchi (a kind of marl) and rolled in straw ash, in which state it is roasted over a charcoal fire raised to glowing heat with the bellows. The clay having been removed, another plate of the same metal is beaten in, and the same process is repeated. This is done several times, the number depending on the quality of graining that the expert desires to produce. The manifold plate is then heavily punched from one side, so that the opposite face protrudes in broken blisters, which are then hammered down until each becomes a centre of wave propagation. In fine work the apex of the blister is ground off before the final hammering. Iron was the metal used exclusively for work of this kind down to the 16th century, but various metals began thenceforth to be combined. Perhaps the choicest variety is gold graining in a shakudo field. By repeated hammering and polishing the expert obtains such control of the wood-grain pattern that its sinuosities and eddies seem to have developed symmetry without losing anything of their fantastic grace. There are other methods of producing mokume-ji.
It has been frequently asserted by Western critics that the
year (1876) which witnessed the abolition of sword-wearing in
Japan, witnessed also the end of her artistic metal-work.
That is a great mistake. The art has merely
developed new phases in modern times. Not only are
Ancient Skill. its masters as skilled now as they were in the days of the Gotō, the Nara, the Yokoya and the Yanagawa celebrities, but also their productions must be called greater in many respects and more interesting than those of their renowned predecessors. They no longer devote themselves to the manufacture of sword ornaments, but work rather at vases, censers, statuettes, plaques, boxes and other objects of a serviceable or ornamental nature. All the processes described above are practised by them with full success, and they have added others quite as remarkable.
Of these, one of the most interesting is called kiribame (insertion). The decorative design having been completely chiselled in the round, is then fixed in a field of a different metal, in which a design of exactly similar outline has been cut out. The result is that the picture has no blank reverse. For example, on the surface of a shibuichi box-lid we see the backs of a flock of geese chiselled in silver, and when the lid is opened, their breasts and the under-sides of their pinions appear. The difficulty of such work is plain. Microscopic accuracy has to be attained in cutting out the space for the insertion of the design, and while the latter must be soldered firmly in its place, not the slightest trace of solder or the least sign of junction must be discernible between the metal of the inserted picture and that of the field in which it is inserted. Suzuki Gensuke is the inventor of this method. He belongs to a class of experts called uchimono-shi (hammerers) who perform preparatory work for glyptic artists in metal. The skill of these men is often wonderful. Using the hammer only, some of them can beat out an intricate shape as truly and delicately as a sculptor could carve it with his chisels. Ōhori Masatoshi, an uchimono-shi of Aizu (d. 1897), made a silver cake-box in the form of a sixteen-petalled chrysanthemum. The shapes of the body and lid corresponded so intimately that, whereas the lid could be slipped on easily and smoothly without any attempt to adjust its curves to those of the body, it always fitted so closely that the box could be lifted by grasping the lid only. Another feat of his was to apply a lining of silver to a shakudo box by shaping and hammering only, the fit being so perfect that the lining clung like paper to every part of the box. Suzuki Gensuke and Hirata Sōkō are scarcely less expert. The latter once exhibited in Tōkyō a silver game-cock with soft plumage and surface modelling of the most delicate character. It had been made by means of the hammer only. Suzuki’s kiribame process is not to be confounded with the kiribame-zōgan (inserted inlaying) of Tōyoda Kokō, also a modern artist. The gist of the latter method is that a design chiselled à jour has its outlines veneered with other metal which serves to emphasize them. Thus, having pierced a spray of flowers in a thin sheet of shibuichi, the artist fits a slender rim of gold, silver or shakudo to the petals, leaves and stalks, so that an effect is produced of transparent blossoms outlined in gold, silver or purple. Another modern achievement—also due to Suzuki Gensuke—is maze-gane (mixed metals). It is a singular conception, and the results obtained depend largely on chance. Shibuichi and shakudo are melted separately, and when they have cooled just enough not to mingle too intimately, they are cast into a bar which is subsequently beaten flat. The plate thus obtained shows accidental clouding, or massing of dark tones, and these patches are taken as the basis of a pictorial design to which final character is given by inlaying with gold and silver, and by katā-kiri sculpture. Such pictures partake largely of the impressionist character, but they attain much beauty in the hands of the Japanese artist with his extensive répertoire of suggestive symbols. A process resembling maze-gane, but less fortuitous, is shibuichi-dōshi (combined shibuichi), which involves beating together two kinds of shibuichi and then adding a third variety, after which the details of the picture are worked in as in the case of maze-gane. The charm of these methods is that certain parts of the decorative design seem to float, not on the surface of the metal, but actually within it, an admirable effect of depth and atmosphere being thus produced. Mention must also be made of an extraordinarily elaborate and troublesome process invented by Kajima Ippu, a great artist of the present day. It is called togi-dashi-zōgan (ground-out inlaying). In this exquisite and ingenious kind of work the design appears to be growing up from the depths of the metal, and a delightful impression of atmosphere and water is obtained. All these processes, as well as that of repoussé, in which the Japanese have excelled from a remote period, are now practised with the greatest skill in Tokyo, Kiōto, Osaka and Kanazawa. At the art exhibitions held twice a year in the principal cities there may be seen specimens of statuettes, alcove ornaments, and household utensils which show that the Japanese worker in metals stands more indisputably than ever at the head of the world’s artists in that field. The Occident does not yet appear to have full realized the existence of such talent in Japan; partly perhaps because its displays in former times were limited chiefly to sword-furniture, possessing little interest for the average European or American; and partly because the Japanese have not yet learned to adapt their skill to foreign requirements. They confine themselves at present to decorating plaques, boxes and cases for cigars or cigarettes, and an occasional tea or coffee service; but the whole domain of salvers, dessert-services, race-cups and so on remains virtually unexplored. Only within the past few years have stores been established in the foreign settlements for the sale of silver utensils, and already the workmanship on these objects displays palpable signs of the deterioration which all branches of Japanese art have undergone in the attempt to cater for foreign taste. In a general sense the European or American connoisseur is much less exacting than the Japanese. Broad effects of richness and splendour captivate the former, whereas the latter looks for delicacy of finish, accuracy of detail and, above all, evidences of artistic competence. It is nothing to a Japanese that a vase should be covered with profuse decoration of flowers and foliage: he requires that every blossom and every leaf shall be instinct with vitality, and the comparative costliness of fine workmanship does not influence his choice. But if the Japanese sculptor adopted such standards in working for foreign patrons, his market would be reduced to very narrow dimensions. He therefore adapts himself to his circumstances, and, using the mould rather than the chisel, produces specimens which snow tawdry handsomeness and are attractively cheap. It must be admitted, however, that even though foreign appreciative faculty were sufficiently educated, the Japanese artist in metals would still labour under the great difficulty of devising shapes to take the place of those which Europe and America have learned to consider classical.
Bronze is called by the Japanese kara-kane, a term signifying “Chinese metal” and showing clearly the source from which knowledge of the alloy was obtained. It is a copper-lead-tin compound, the proportions of its constituents varying from 72 to 88% of copper, from 4 Bronze Casting. to 20% of lead and from 2 to 8% of tin. There are also present small quantities of arsenic and antimony, and zinc is found generally as a mere trace, but sometimes reaching to 6%. Gold is supposed to have found a place in ancient bronzes, but its presence has never been detected by analysis, and of silver not more than 2% seems to have been admitted at any time. Mr W. Gowland has shown that, whatever may have been the practice of Japanese bronze makers in ancient and medieval eras, their successors in later days deliberately introduced arsenic and antimony into the compound in order to harden the bronze without impairing its fusibility, so that it might take a sharper impression of the mould. Japanese bronze is well suited for castings, not only because of its low melting-point, great fluidity and capacity for taking sharp impressions, but also because it has a particularly smooth surface and readily develops a fine patina. One variety deserves special mention. It is a golden yellow bronze, called sentoku—this being the Japanese pronunciation of Suen-tē, the era of the Ming dynasty of China when this compound was invented. Copper, tin, lead and zinc, mixed in various proportions by different experts, are the ingredients, and the beautiful golden hues and glossy texture of the surface are obtained by patina-producing processes, in which branch of metal-work the Japanese show altogether unique skill.
From the time when they began to cast bronze statues, Japanese experts understood how to employ a hollow, removable core round which the metal was run in a skin just thick enough for strength without waste of material; and they also understood the use of wax for modelling purposes. In ordinary circumstances, a casting thus obtained took the form of a shell without any break of continuity. But for very large castings the process had to be modified. The great image of Lochana Buddha at Nara, for example, would measure 138 ft. in height were it standing erect, and its weight is about 550 tons. The colossal Amida at Kamakura has a height only 3 ft. less. It would have been scarcely possible to cast such statues in one piece in situ, or, if cast elsewhere, to transport them and elevate them on their pedestals. The plan pursued was to build them up gradually in their places by casting segment after segment. Thus, for the Nara Daibutsu, the mould was constructed in a series of steps ascending 12 in. at a time, until the head and neck were reached, which, of course, had to be cast in one shell, 12 ft. high.
The term “parlour bronzes” serves to designate objects for domestic use, as flower-vases, incense-burners and alcove ornaments. Bronze-casters began to turn their attention to these objects about the middle of the 17th century. The art of casting bronze reached its culmination in the hands of a group of great experts—Seimin, Tōun, Masatune, Teijō, Sōmin, Keisai, Takusai, Gido, Zenryūsai and Hotokusai—who flourished during the second half of the 18th century and the first half of the 19th. Many brilliant specimens of these men’s work survive, their general features being that the motives are naturalistic, that the quality of the metal is exceptionally fine, that in addition to beautifully clear casting obtained by highly skilled use of the cera-perduta process, the chisel was employed to impart delicacy and finish to the design, and that modelling in high relief is most successfully introduced. But it is a mistake to assert, as many have asserted, that after the era of the above ten masters—the latest of whom, Sōmin, ceased to work in 1871—no bronzes comparable with theirs were cast. Between 1875 and 1879 some of the finest bronzes ever produced in Japan were turned out by a group of experts working under the business name of Sanseisha. Started by two brothers, Oshima Katsujiro (art-name Jōun) and Oshima Yasutaro (art-name Shōkaku), this association secured the services of a number of skilled chisellers of sword-furniture, who had lost their occupation by the abandonment of sword-wearing. Nothing could surpass the delicacy of the works executed at the Sanseisha’s atelier in Tōkyō, but unfortunately such productions were above the standard of the customers for whom they were intended. Foreign buyers, who alone stood in the market at that time, failed to distinguish the fine and costly bronzes of Jōun, Shōkaku and their colleagues from cheap imitations which soon began to compete with them, so that ultimately the Sanseisha had to be closed. This page in the modern history of Japan’s bronzes needs little alteration to be true of her applied art in general. Foreign demand has shown so little discrimination that experts, finding it impossible to obtain adequate remuneration for first-class work, have been obliged to abandon the field altogether, or to lower their standard to the level of general appreciation, or by forgery to cater for the perverted taste which attaches unreasoning value to age. Jōun has produced, and is thoroughly capable of producing, bronzes at least equal to the best of Seimin’s masterpieces, yet he has often been induced to put Seimin’s name on objects for the sake of attracting buyers who attach more value to cachet than to quality. If to the names of Jōun and his brilliant pupil Ryūki we add those of Suzuki Chōkichi, Okazaki Sessei, Hasegawa Kumazō, Kanaya Gorosaburō and Jomi Eisuke, we have a group of modern bronze-casters who unquestionably surpass the ten experts beginning with Seimin and ending with Sōmin. Okazaki Sessei has successfully achieved the casting of huge panels carrying designs in high relief; and whether there is question of patina or of workmanship, Jōmi Eisuke has never been surpassed.
Occidental influence has been felt, of course, in the field of modern bronze-casting. At a school of art officially established in Tōkyō in 1873 under the direction of Italian teachers—a school which owed its signal failure partly to the incompetence and intemperate behaviour of some of its foreign professors, and partly to a strong renaissance of pure Japanese classicism—one of the few accomplishments successfully taught was that of modelling in plaster and chiselling in marble after Occidental methods. Marble statues are out of place in the wooden buildings as well as in the parks of Japan, and even plaster busts or groups, though less incongruous perhaps, have not yet found favour. Hence the skill undoubtedly possessed by several graduates of the defunct art school has to be devoted chiefly to a subordinate purpose, namely, the fashioning of models for metal-casters. To this combination of modellers in European style and metal-workers of such force as Suzuki and Okazaki, Japan owes various memorial bronzes and effigies which are gradually finding a place in her parks, her museums, her shrines or her private houses. There is here little departure from the well-trodden paths of Europe. Studies in drapery, prancing steeds, ideal poses, heads with fragments of torsos attached (in extreme violation of true art), crouching beasts of prey—all the stereotyped styles are reproduced. The imitation is excellent.
Among the artists of early times it is often difficult to distinguish
between the carver of wood and the caster of bronze.
The latter sometimes made his own models in wax,
sometimes chiselled them in wood, and sometimes had
recourse to a specialist in wood-carving. The group
Carving in Wood
and Ivory. of splendid sculptors in wood that graced the 11th, 12th and 13th centuries left names never to be forgotten, but undoubtedly many other artists of scarcely less force regarded bronze-casting as their principal business. Thus the story of wood-carving is very difficult to trace. Even in the field of architectural decoration for interiors, tradition tells us scarcely anything about the masters who carved such magnificent works as those seen in the Kiōto temples, the Tokugawa mausolea, and some of the old castles. There are, however, no modern developments of such work to be noted. The ability of former times exists and is exercised in the old way, though the field for its employment has been greatly narrowed.
When Japanese sculpture in wood or ivory is spoken of, the first idea that presents itself is connected with the netsuke, which, of all the art objects found in Japan, is perhaps the most essentially Japanese. If Japan had given us nothing but the netsuke, we should still have no difficulty in Netsuke Carvers. differentiating the bright versatility of her national genius from the comparatively sombre, mechanic and unimaginative temperament of the Chinese. But the netsuke may now be said to be a thing of the past. The inro (medicine-box), which it mainly served to fix in the girdle, has been driven out of fashion by the new civilization imported from the West, and artists who would have carved netsuke in former times now devote their chisels to statuettes and alcove ornaments. It is not to be inferred, however, though it is a favourite assertion of collectors, that no good netsuke have been made in modern times. That theory is based upon the fact that after the opening of the country to foreign intercourse in 1857, hundreds of inferior specimens of netsuke were chiselled by inexpert hands, purchased wholesale by treaty-port merchants, and sent to New York, London and Paris, where, though they brought profit to the exporter, they also disgusted the connoisseur and soon earned discredit for their whole class. But in fact the glyptic artists of Tōkyō, Osaka and Kiōto, though they now devote their chisels chiefly to works of more importance than the netsuke, are in no sense inferior to their predecessors of feudal days, and many beautiful netsuke bearing their signatures are in existence. As for the modern ivory statuette or alcove ornament, of which great numbers are now carved for the foreign market, it certainly stands on a plane much higher than the netsuke, since anatomical defects which escape notice in the latter owing to its diminutive size, become obtrusive in the former.
One of the most remarkable developments of figure sculpture in modern Japan was due to Matsumoto Kisaburo (1830–1869). He carved human figures with as much accuracy as though they were destined for purposes of surgical demonstration. Considering that this man had neither art education The Realistic Departure. nor anatomical instruction, and that he never enjoyed an opportunity of studying from a model in a studio, his achievements were remarkable. He and the craftsmen of the school he established completely refute the theory that the anatomical solecisms commonly seen in the works of Japanese sculptors are due to faulty observation. Without scientific training of any kind Matsumoto and his followers produced works in which the eye of science cannot detect any error. But it is impossible to admit within the circle of high-art productions these wooden figures of everyday men and women, unrelieved by any subjective element, and owing their merit entirely to the fidelity with which their contours are shaped, their muscles modelled, and their anatomical proportions preserved. They have not even the attraction of being cleanly sculptured in wood, but are covered with thinly lacquered muslin, which, though doubtless a good preservative, accentuates their puppet-like character. Nevertheless, Matsumoto’s figures marked an epoch in Japanese wood sculpture. Their vivid realism appealed strongly to the taste of the average foreigner. A considerable school of carvers soon began to work in the Matsumoto style, and hundreds of their productions have gone to Europe and America, finding no market in Japan.
Midway between the Matsumoto school and the pure style approved by the native taste in former times stand a number of wood-carvers headed by Takamura Kōun, who occupies in the field of sculpture much the same place as that held by Hashimoto Gaho in the realm of The Semi-foreign School. painting. Kōun carves figures in the round which not only display great power of chisel and breadth of style, but also tell a story not necessarily drawn from the motives of the classical school. This departure from established canons must be traced to the influence of the short-lived academy of Italian art established by the Japanese government early in the Meiji era. In the forefront of the new movement are to be found men like Yoneharu Unkai and Shinkai Taketarō; the former chiselled a figure of Jenner for the Medical Association of Japan when they celebrated the centenary of the great physician, and the latter has carved life-size effigies of two Imperial princes who lost their lives in the war with China (1894-95). The artists of the Kōun school, however, do much work which appeals to emotions in general rather than to individual memories. Thus Arakawa Reiun, one of Kōun’s most brilliant pupils, has exhibited a figure of a swordsman in the act of driving home a furious thrust. The weapon is not shown. Reiun sculptured simply a man poised on the toes of one foot, the other foot raised, the arm extended, and the body straining forward in strong yet elastic muscular effort. A more imaginative work by the same artist is a figure of a farmer who has just shot an eagle that swooped upon his grandson. The old man holds his bow still raised. Some of the eagle’s feathers, blown to his side, suggest the death of the bird; at his feet lies the corpse of the little boy, and the horror, grief and anger that such a tragedy would inspire are depicted with striking realism in the farmer’s face. Such work has very close affinities with Occidental conceptions. The chief distinguishing feature is that the glyptic character is preserved at the expense of surface finish. The undisguised touches of the chisel tell a story of technical force and directness which could not be suggested by perfectly smooth surfaces. To subordinate process to result is the European canon; to show the former without marring the latter is the Japanese ideal. Many of Kōun’s sculptures appear unfinished to eyes trained in Occidental galleries, whereas the Japanese connoisseur detects evidence of a technical feat in their seeming roughness.
Architecture.—From the evidence of ancient records it appears that before the 5th century the Japanese resided in houses of a very rude character. The sovereign’s palace itself was merely a wooden hut. Its pillars were thrust into the ground and the whole framework—consisting Private Dwellings. of posts, beams, rafters, door-posts and window-frames—was tied together with cords made by twisting the long fibrous stems of climbing plants. The roof was thatched, and perhaps had a gable at each end with a hole to allow the smoke of the wood fire to escape. Wooden doors swung on a kind of hook; the windows were mere holes in the walls. Rugs of skins or rush matting were used for sitting on, and the whole was surrounded with a palisade. In the middle of the 5th century two-storeyed houses seem to have been built, but the evidence on the subject is slender. In the 8th century, however, when the court was moved to Nara, the influence of Chinese civilization made itself felt. Architects, turners, tile-makers, decorative artists and sculptors, coming from China and from Korea, erected grand temples for the worship of Buddha enshrining images of much beauty and adorned with paintings and carvings of considerable merit. The plan of the city itself was taken from that of the Chinese metropolis. A broad central avenue led straight to the palace, and on either side of it ran four parallel streets, crossed at right angles by smaller thoroughfares. During this century the first sumptuary edict ordered that the dwellings of all high officials and opulent civilians should have tiled roofs and be coloured red, the latter injunction being evidently intended to stop the use of logs carrying their bark. Tiles thenceforth became the orthodox covering for a roof, but vermilion, being regarded as a religious colour, found no favour in private dwellings. In the 9th century, after the capital had been established at Kiōto, the palace of the sovereigns and the mansions of ministers and nobles were built on a scale of unprecedented grandeur. It is true that all the structures of the time had the defect of a box-like appearance. Massive, towering roofs, which impart an air of stateliness even to a wooden building and yet, by their graceful curves, avoid any suggestion of ponderosity, were still confined to Buddhist edifices. The architect of private dwellings attached more importance to satin-surfaced boards and careful joinery than to any appearance of strength or solidity.
Except for the number of buildings composing it, the palace had little to distinguish it from a nobleman’s mansion. The latter consisted of a principal hall, where the master of the house lived, ate and slept, and of three suites of chambers, disposed on the north, the east and the west of the principal hall. In the northern suite the lady of the house dwelt, the eastern and western suites being allotted to other members of the family. Corridors joined the principal hall to the subordinate edifices, for as yet the idea had not been conceived of having more than one chamber under the same roof. The principal hall was usually 42 ft. square. Its centre was occupied by a “parent chamber,” 30 ft. square, around which ran an ambulatory and a veranda, each 6 ft. wide. The parent chamber and the ambulatory were ceiled, sometimes with interlacing strips of bark or broad laths, so as to produce a plaited effect; sometimes with plain boards. The veranda had no ceiling. Sliding doors, a characteristic feature of modern Japanese houses, had not yet come into use, and no means were provided for closing the veranda, but the ambulatory was surrounded by a wall of latticed timber or plain boards, the lower half of which could be removed altogether, whereas the upper half, suspended from hooks, could be swung upward and outward. Privacy was obtained by blinds of split bamboo, and the parent chamber was separated from the ambulatory by similar bamboo blinds with silk cords for raising or lowering them, or by curtains. The thick rectangular mats of uniform size which, fitting together so as to present a level unbroken surface, cover the floor of all modern Japanese houses, were not yet in use: floors were boarded, having only a limited space matted. This form of mansion underwent little modification until the 12th century, when the introduction of the Zen sect of Buddhism with its contemplative practice called for greater privacy. Interiors were then divided into smaller rooms by means of sliding doors covered with thin rice-paper, which permitted the passage of light while obstructing vision; the hanging lattices were replaced by wooden doors which could be slid along a groove so as to be removable in the daytime, and an alcove was added in the principal chamber for a sacred picture or Buddhist image to serve as an object of contemplation for a devotee while practising the rite of abstraction. Thus the main features of the Japanese dwelling-house were evolved, and little change took place subsequently, except that the brush of the painter was freely used for decorating partitions, and in aristocratic mansions unlimited care was exercised in the choice of rare woods.
The Buddhist temple underwent little change at Japanese hands except in the matter of decoration. Such as it was in outline when first erected in accordance with Chinese models, such it virtually remained, though in later times all the resources of the sculptor and the Buddhist Temple Architecture.painter were employed to beautify it externally and internally.
“The building, sometimes of huge dimensions, is invariably surrounded by a raised gallery, reached by a flight of steps in the centre of the approach front, the balustrade of which is a continuation of the gallery railing. This gallery is sometimes supported upon a deep system of bracketing, corbelled out from the feet of the main pillars. Within this raised gallery, which is sheltered by the over-sailing eaves, there is, in the larger temples, a columned loggia passing round the two sides and the front of the building, or, in some cases, placed on the façade only. The ceilings of the loggias are generally sloping, with richly carved roof-timbers showing below at intervals; and quaintly carved braces connect the outer pillars with the main posts of the building. Some temples are to be seen in which the ceiling of the loggia is boarded flat and decorated with large paintings of dragons in black and gold. The intercolumniation is regulated by a standard of about six or seven feet, and the general result of the treatment of columns, wall-posts, &c., is that the whole mural space, not filled in with doors or windows, is divided into regular oblong panels, which sometimes receive plaster, sometimes boarding and sometimes rich framework and carving or painted panels. Diagonal bracing or strutting is nowhere to be found, and in many cases mortises and other joints are such as very materially to weaken the timbers at their points of connexion. It would seem that only the immense weight of the roofs and their heavy projections prevent a collapse of some of these structures in high winds. The principal façade of the temple is filled in one, two or three compartments with hinged doors, variously ornamented and folding outwards, sometimes in double folds. From these doorways, generally left open, the interior light is principally obtained, windows, as the term is generally understood, being rare. An elaborate cornice of wooden bracketing crowns the walls, forming one of the principal ornaments of the building. The whole disposition of pillars, posts, brackets and rafters is harmonically arranged according to some measure of the standard of length. A very important feature of the façade is the portico or porch-way, which covers the principal steps and is generally formed by producing the central portion of the main roof over the steps and supporting such projection upon isolated wooden pillars braced together near the top with horizontal ties, carved, moulded and otherwise fantastically decorated. Above these ties are the cornice brackets and beams, corresponding in general design to the cornice of the walls, and the intermediate space is filled with open carvings of dragons or other characteristic designs. The forms of roof are various, but mostly they commence in a steep slope at the top, gradually flattening towards the eaves so as to produce a slightly concave appearance, this concavity being rendered more emphatic by the tilt which is given to the eaves at the four corners. The appearance of the ends of the roof is half hip, half gable. Heavy ribs of tile-cresting with large terminals are carried along the ridge and the slope of the gable. The result of the whole is very picturesque, and has the advantage of looking equally satisfactory from any point of view. The interior arrangement of wall columns, horizontal beams and cornice bracketing corresponds with that on the outside. The ceiling is invariably boarded and subdivided by ribs into small rectangular coffers. Sometimes painting is introduced into these panels and lacquer and metal clasps are added to the ribs. When the temple is of very large dimensions an interior peristyle of pillars is introduced to assist in supporting the roof, and in such cases each pillar carries profuse bracketing corresponding to that of the cornice. The construction of the framework of the Japanese roof is such that the weights all act vertically; there is no thrust on the outer walls, and every available point of the interior is used as a means of support.
“The floor is partly boarded and partly matted. The shrines, altars and oblatory tables are placed at the back in the centre, and there are often other secondary shrines at the sides. In temples of the best class the floor of the gallery and of the central portion of the main building from entrance to altar are richly lacquered; in those of inferior class they are merely polished by continued rubbing.”—(J. Conder, in the Proceedings of the Royal Institute of British Architects.)
None of the magnificence of the Buddhist temple belongs to the Shintō shrine. In the case of the latter conservatism has been absolute from time immemorial. The shrines of Ise, which may be called the Mecca of Shintō devotees, are believed to present to-day precisely the Shintō Architecture.appearance they presented in 478, when they were moved thither in obedience to a revelation from the Sun-goddess. It has been the custom to rebuild them every twentieth year, alternately on each of two sites set apart for the purpose, the features of the old edifice being reproduced in the new with scrupulous accuracy.
They are enlarged replicas of the primeval wooden hut described above, having rafters with their upper ends crossed; thatched or shingled roof; boarded floors, and logs laid on the roof-ridge at right angles for the purpose of binding the ridge and the rafters firmly together. A thatched roof is imperative in the orthodox shrine, but in modern days tiles or sheets of copper are sometimes substituted. At Ise, however, no such novelties are tolerated. The avenue of approach generally passes under a structure called torii. Originally designed as a perch for fowls which sang to the deities at daybreak, this torii subsequently came to be erroneously regarded as a gateway characteristic of the Shintō shrine. It consists of two thick trunks placed upright, their upper ends mortised into a horizontal log which projects beyond them at either side. The structure derives some grace from its extreme simplicity.
Textile Fabrics and Embroidery.—In no branch of applied art does the decorative genius of Japan show more attractive results than in that of textile fabrics, and in none has there been more conspicuous progress during recent years. Her woven and embroidered stuffs have always been beautiful; but in former times few pieces of size and splendour were produced, if we except the curtains used for draping festival cars and the hangings of temples. Tapestry, as it is employed in Europe, was not thought of, nor indeed could the small hand-looms of the period be easily adapted to such work. All that has been changed, however. Arras of large dimensions, showing remarkable workmanship and grand combinations of colours, is now manufactured in Kiōto, the product of years of patient toil on the part of weaver and designer alike. Kawashima of Kiōto has acquired high reputation for work of this kind. He inaugurated the new departure a few years ago by copying a Gobelin, but it may safely be asserted that no Gobelin will bear comparison with the pieces now produced in Japan.
The most approved fashion of weaving is called tsuzure-ori (linked-weaving); that is to say, the cross threads are laid in with the fingers and pushed into their places with a comb by hand, very little machinery being used. The threads extend only to the outlines of each figure, and it follows that every part of the pattern has a rim of minute holes like pierced lines separating postage stamps in a sheet, the effect being that the design seems to hang suspended in the ground—linked into it, as the Japanese term implies. A specimen of this nature recently manufactured by Kawashima’s weavers measured 20 ft. by 13, and represented the annual festival at the Nikkō mausolea. The chief shrine was shown, as were also the gate and the long flight of stone steps leading up to it, several other buildings, the groves of cryptomeria that surround the mausolea, and the festival procession. All the architectural and decorative details, all the carvings and colours, all the accessories—everything was wrought in silk, and each of the 1500 figures forming the procession wore exactly appropriate costume. Even this wealth of detail, remarkable as it was, seemed less surprising than the fact that the weaver had succeeded in producing the effect of atmosphere and aerial perspective. Through the graceful cryptomerias distant mountains and the still more distant sky could be seen, and between the buildings in the foreground and those in the middle distance atmosphere appeared to be perceptible. Two years of incessant labour with relays of artisans working steadily throughout the twenty-four hours were required to finish this piece. Naturally such specimens are not produced in large numbers. Next in decorative importance to tsuzure-ori stands yūzen birôdo, commonly known among English-speaking people as cut velvet. Dyeing by the yūzen process is an innovation of modern times. The design is painted on the fabric, after which the latter is steamed, and the picture is ultimately fixed by methods which are kept secret. The soft silk known as habutaye is a favourite ground for such work, but silk crape also is largely employed. No other method permits the decorator to achieve such fidelity and such boldness of draughtsmanship. The difference between the results of the ordinary and the yūzen processes of dyeing is, in fact, the difference between a stencilled sketch and a finished picture. In the case of cut velvet, the yūzen process is supplemented as follows: The cutter, who works at an ordinary wooden bench, has no tool except a small sharp chisel with a V-shaped point. This chisel is passed into an iron pencil having at the end guards, between which the point of the chisel projects, so that it is impossible for the user to cut beyond a certain depth. When the velvet comes to him, it already carries a coloured picture permanently fixed by the yūzen process, but the wires have not been withdrawn. It is, in fact, velvet that has passed through all the usual stages of manufacture except the cutting of the thread along each wire and the withdrawal of the wires. The cutting artist lays the piece of unfinished velvet on his bench, and proceeds to carve into the pattern with his chisel, just as though he were shading the lines of the design with a steel pencil. When the pattern is lightly traced, he uses his knife delicately; when the lines are strong and the shadows heavy, he makes the point pierce deeply. In short, the little chisel becomes in his fingers a painter’s brush, and when it is remembered that, the basis upon which he works being simply a thread of silk, his hand must be trained to such delicacy of muscular effort as to be capable of arresting the edge of the knife at varying depths within the diameter of the tiny filament, the difficulty of the achievement will be understood. Of course it is to be noted that the edge of the cutting tool is never allowed to trespass upon a line which the exigencies of the design require to be solid. The veining of a cherry petal, for example, the tessellation of a carp’s scales, the serration of a leaf’s edge—all these lines remain intact, spared by the cutter’s tool, while the leaf itself, or the petal, or the scales of the fish, have the threads forming them cut so as to show the velvet nap and to appear in soft, low relief. In one variety of this fabric, a slip of gold foil is laid under each wire, and left in position after the wire is withdrawn, the cutting tool being then used with freedom in some parts of the design, so that the gold gleams through the severed thread, producing a rich and suggestive effect. Velvet, however, is not capable of being made the basis for pictures so elaborate and microscopically accurate as those produced by the yūzen process on silk crape or habutaye. The rich-toned, soft plumage of birds or the magnificent blending of colours in a bunch of peonies or chrysanthemums cannot be obtained with absolute fidelity on the ribbed surface of velvet.
The embroiderer’s craft has been followed for centuries in Japan with eminent success, but whereas it formerly ranked with dyeing and weaving, it has now come to be regarded as an art. Formerly the embroiderer was content to produce a pattern with his needle, now he paints a Embroidery.picture. So perfectly does the modern Japanese embroiderer elaborate his scheme of values that all the essential elements of pictorial effects—chiaroscuro, aerial perspective and atmosphere are present in his work. Thus a graceful and realistic school has replaced the comparatively stiff and conventional style of former times.
Ceramics.—All research proves that up to the 12th century of the Christian era the ceramic ware produced in Japan was of a very rude character. The interest attaching to it is historical rather than technical. Pottery was certainly manufactured from an early date, and there is Early Period.evidence that kilns existed in some fifteen provinces in the 10th century. But although the use of the potter’s wheel had long been understood, the objects produced were simple utensils to contain offerings of rice, fruit and fish at the austere ceremonials of the Shintō faith, jars for storing seeds, and vessels for common domestic use. In the 13th century, however, the introduction of tea from China, together with vessels for infusing and serving it, revealed to the Japanese a new conception of ceramic possibilities, for the potters of the Middle Kingdom had then (Sung dynasty) fully entered the road which was destined to carry them ultimately to a high pinnacle of their craft. It had long been customary in Japan to send students to China for the purpose of studying philosophy and religion, and she now (1223) sent a potter, Kato Shirozaemon, who, on his return, opened a kiln at Seto in the province of Owari, and began to produce little jars for preserving tea and cups for drinking it. These were conspicuously superior to anything previously manufactured. Kato is regarded as the father of Japanese ceramics. But the ware produced by him and his successors at the Seto kilns, or by their contemporaries in other parts of the country, had no valid claim to decorative excellence. Nearly three centuries elapsed before a radically upward movement took place, and on this occasion also the inspiration came from China. In 1520 a potter named Gorodayu Goshonzui (known to posterity as Shonzui) made his way to Fuchow and thence to King-te-chen, where, after five years’ study, he acquired the art of manufacturing porcelain, as distinguished from pottery, together with the art of applying decoration in blue under the glaze. He established his kiln at Arita in Hizen, and the event marked the opening of the second epoch of Japanese ceramics. Yet the new departure then made did not lead far. The existence of porcelain clay in Hizen was not discovered for many years, and Shonzui’s pieces being made entirely with kaolin imported from China, their manufacture ceased after his death, though knowledge of the processes learned by him survived and was used in the production of greatly inferior wares. The third clearly differentiated epoch was inaugurated by the discovery of true kaolin at Izumi-yama in Hizen, the discoverer being one of the Korean potters who came to Japan in the train of Hideyoshi’s generals returning from the invasion of Korea, and the date of the discovery being about 1605. Thus much premised, it becomes possible to speak in detail of the various wares for which Japan became famous.
The principal kinds of ware are Hizen, Kiōto, Satsuma, Kutani, Owari, Bizen, Takatori, Banko, Izumo and Yatsushiro.
There are three chief varieties of Hizen ware, namely, (1) the enamelled porcelain of Arita—the “old Japan” of European collectors; (2) the enamelled porcelain of Nabeshima; and (3) the blue and white, or plain white, porcelain of Hirado. The earliest manufacture of porcelain—as distinguished Hizen.from pottery—began in the opening years of the 16th century, but its materials were exotic. Genuine Japanese porcelain dates from about a century later. The decoration was confined to blue under the glaze, and as an object of art the ware possessed no special merit. Not until the year 1620 do we find any evidence of the style for which Arita porcelain afterwards became famous, namely, decoration with vitrifiable enamels. The first efforts in this direction were comparatively crude; but before the middle of the 17th century, two experts—Goroshichi and Kakiemon—carried the art to a point of considerable excellence. From that time forward the Arita factories turned out large quantities of porcelain profusely decorated with blue under the glaze and coloured enamels over it. Many pieces were exported by the Dutch, and some also were specially manufactured to their order. Specimens of the latter are still preserved in European collections, where they are classed as genuine examples of Japanese ceramic art, though beyond question their style of decoration was greatly influenced by Dutch interference. The porcelains of Arita were carried to the neighbouring town of Imari for sale and shipment. Hence the ware came to be known to Japanese and foreigners alike as Imari-yaki (yaki = anything baked; hence ware).
The Nabeshima porcelain—so called because of its production at private factories under the special patronage of Nabeshima Naoshige, feudal chief of Hizen—was produced at Okawachiyama. It differed from Imari-yaki in the milky whiteness and softness of its glaze, the comparative sparseness of its Nabeshima.enamelled decoration, and the relegation of blue sous couverte to an entirely secondary place. This is undoubtedly the finest jewelled porcelain in Japan; the best examples leave nothing to be desired. The factory’s period of excellence began about the year 1680, and culminated at the close of the 18th century.
The Hirado porcelain—so called because it enjoyed the special patronage of Matsuura, feudal chief of Hirado—was produced at Mikawa-uchi-yama, but did not attain excellence until the middle of the 18th century, from which time until about 1830 specimens of rare beauty were produced. They were Hirado.decorated with blue under the glaze, but some were pure white with exquisitely chiselled designs incised or in relief. The production was always scanty, and, owing to official prohibitions, the ware did not find its way into the general market.
The history of Kiōto ware—which, being for the most part faience, belongs to an entirely different category from the Hizen porcelains spoken of above—is the history of individual ceramists rather than of special manufactures. Speaking broadly, however, four different varieties are usually distinguished. They Kiōto. are raku-yaki, awata-yaki, iwakura-yaki and kiyomizu-yaki.
Raku-yaki is essentially the domestic faience of Japan; for, being entirely hand-made and fired at a very low temperature, its manufacture offers few difficulties, and has consequently been carried on by amateurs in their own homes at various places throughout the country. The raku-yaki Raku. of Kiōto is the parent of all the rest. It was first produced by a Korean who emigrated to Japan in the early part of the 16th century. But the term raku-yaki did not come into use until the close of the century, when Chōjiro (artistic name, Chōryū) received from Hideyoshi (the Taikō) a seal bearing the ideograph raku, with which he thenceforth stamped his productions. Thirteen generations of the same family carried on the work, each using a stamp with the same ideograph, its calligraphy, however, differing sufficiently to be identified by connoisseurs. The faience is thick and clumsy, having soft, brittle and very light pâte. The staple type has black glaze showing little lustre, and in choice varieties this is curiously speckled and pitted with red. Salmon-coloured, red, yellow and white glazes are also found, and in late specimens gilding was added. The raku faience owed much of its popularity to the patronage of the tea clubs. The nature of its paste and glaze adapted it for the infusion of powdered tea, and its homely character suited the austere canons of the tea ceremonies.
Awata-yaki is the best known among the ceramic productions of Kiōto. There is evidence to show that the art of decoration with enamels over the glaze reached Kiōto from Hizen in the middle of the 17th century. Just at that time there flourished in the Western capital a potter of remarkable ability, Awata. called Nomura Seisuke. He immediately utilized the new method, and produced many beautiful examples of jewelled faience, having close, hard pâte, yellowish-white, or brownish-white, glaze covered with a network of fine crackle, and sparse decoration in pure full-bodied colours—red, green, gold and silver. He worked chiefly at Awata, and thus brought that factory into prominence. Nomura Seisuke, or Ninsei as he is commonly called, was one of Japan’s greatest ceramists. Genuine examples of his faience have always been highly prized, and numerous imitations were subsequently produced, all stamped with the ideograph Ninsei. After Ninsei’s time, the most renowned ceramists of the Awata factories were Kenzan (1688–1740); Ebisei, a contemporary of Kenzan; Dōhachi (1751–1763), who subsequently moved to Kiyōmizu-zaka, another part of Kiōto, the faience of which constitutes the Kiyōmizu-yaki mentioned above; Kinkōzan (1745–1760); Hōzan (1690–1721); Taizan (1760v1800); Bizan (1810–1838); and Tanzan, who was still living in 1909. It must be noted that several of these names, as Kenzan, Dōhachi, Kinkōzan, Hōzan and Taizan, were not limited to one artist. They are family names, and though the dates we have given indicate the eras of the most noted ceramists in each family, amateurs must not draw any chronological conclusion from the mere fact that a specimen bears such and such a name.
The origin of the Iwakura-yaki is somewhat obscure, and its history, at an early date, becomes confused with that of the Awata yaki, from which, indeed, it does not materially Iwakura. differ.
In the term Kiyōmizu-yaki may be included roughly all the faience of Kiōto, with the exception of the three varieties described above. The distinction between Kiyōmizu, Awata and Iwakura is primarily local. They are parts of the same city, and if their names have been used to designate particular Kiyōmizu. classes of pottery, it is not because the technical or decorative features of each class distinguish it from the other two, but chiefly for the purpose of identifying the place of production. On the slopes called Kiyōmizu-zaka and Gojō-zaka lived a number of ceramists, all following virtually the same models with variations due to individual genius. The principal Kiyōmizu artists were: Ebisei, who moved from Awata to Gojō-zaka in 1688; Eisen and Rokubei, pupils of Ebisei; Mokubei, a pupil of Eisen, but more celebrated than his master; Shūhei (1790v1810), Kentei (1782–1820), and Zengoro Hozen, generally known as Eiraku (1790–1850). Eisen was the first to manufacture porcelain (as distinguished from faience) in Kiōto, and this branch of the art was carried to a high standard of excellence by Eiraku, whose speciality was a rich coral-red glaze with finely executed decoration in gold. The latter ceramist excelled also in the production of purple, green and yellow glazes, which he combined with admirable skill and taste. Some choice ware of the latter type was manufactured by him in Kishū, by order of the feudal chief of that province. It is known as Kaira-ku-yen-yaki (ware of the Kairaku park).
No phrase is commoner in the mouths of Western collectors than “Old Satsuma”; no ware is rarer in Western collections. Nine hundred and ninety-nine pieces out of every thousand that do duty as genuine examples of this prince of faiences are simply examples of the skill of modern forgers. In Satsuma. point of fact, the production of faience decorated with gold and coloured enamels may be said to have commenced at the beginning of the eighth century in Satsuma. Some writers maintain that it did actually commence then, and that nothing of the kind had existed there previously. Setting aside, however, the strong improbability that a style of decoration so widely practised and so highly esteemed could have remained unknown during a century and a half to experts working for one of the most puissant chieftains in Japan, we have the evidence of trustworthy traditions and written records that enamelled faience was made by the potters at Tatsumonji—the principal factory of Satsuma-ware in early days—as far back as the year 1676. Mitsuhisa, then feudal lord of Satsuma, was a munificent patron of art. He summoned to his fief the painter Tangen—a pupil of the renowned Tanyū, who died in 1674—and employed him to paint faience or to furnish designs for the ceramists of Tatsumonji. The ware produced under these circumstances is still known by the name of Satsuma Tangen. But the number of specimens was small. Destined chiefly for private use or for presents, their decoration was delicate rather than rich, the colour chiefly employed being brown, or reddish brown, under the glaze, and the decoration over the glaze being sparse and chaste. Not until the close of the l8th century or the beginning of the 19th did the more profuse fashion of enamelled decoration come to be largely employed. It was introduced by two potters who had visited Kiōto, and there observed the ornate methods so well illustrated in the wares of Awata and Kiyōmizu. At the same time a strong impetus was given to the production of faience at Tadeno—then the chief factory in Satsuma—owing to the patronage of Shimazu Tamanobu, lord of the province. To this increase in production and to the more elaborate application of verifiable enamels may be attributed the erroneous idea that Satsuma faience decorated with gold and coloured enamels had its origin at the close of the 18th century. For all the purposes of the ordinary collector it may be said to have commenced then, and to have come to an end about 1860; but for the purposes of the historian we must look farther back.
The ceramic art in Satsuma owed much to the aid of a number of Korean experts who settled there after the return of the Japanese forces from Korea. One of these men, Boku Heii, discovered (1603) clay fitted for the manufacture of white craquelé faience. This was the subsequently celebrated Satsuma-yaki. But in Boku’s time, and indeed as long as the factories flourished, many other kinds of faience were produced, the principal having rich black or flambé glazes, while a few were green or yellow monochromes. One curious variety, called same-yaki, had glaze chagrined like the skin of a shark. Most of the finest pieces of enamelled faience were the work of artists at the Tadeno factory, while the best specimens of other kinds were by the artists of Tatsumonji.
The porcelain of Kutani is among those best known to Western collectors, though good specimens of the old ware have always been scarce. Its manufacture dates from the close of the 17th century, when the feudal chief of Kaga took the industry Kutani. under his patronage. There were two principal varieties of the ware: ao-Kutani, so called because of a green (ao) enamel of great brilliancy and beauty which was largely used in its decoration, and Kutani with painted and enamelled pâte varying from hard porcelain to pottery. Many of the pieces are distinguished by a peculiar creamy whiteness of glaze, suggesting the idea that they were intended to imitate the soft-paste wares of China. The enamels are used to delineate decorative subjects and are applied in masses, the principal colours being green, yellow and soft Prussian blue, all brilliant and transparent, with the exception of the last which is nearly opaque. In many cases we find large portions of the surface completely covered with green or yellow enamel overlying black diapers or scroll patterns. The second variety of Kutani ware may often be mistaken for “old Japan” (i.e. Imari porcelain). The most characteristic examples of it are distinguishable, however, by the preponderating presence of a peculiar russet red, differing essentially from the full-bodied and comparatively brilliant colour of the Arita pottery. Moreover, the workmen of Kaga did not follow the Arita precedent of massing blue under the glaze. In the great majority of cases they did not use blue at all in this position, and when they did, its place was essentially subordinate. They also employed silver freely for decorative purposes, whereas we rarely find it thus used on “old Japan” porcelain.
About the time (1843) of the ao-Kutani revival, a potter called lida Hachiroemon introduced a style of decoration which subsequently came to be regarded as typical of all Kaga procelains. Taking the Eiraku porcelains of Kiōto as models, Hachiroemon employed red grounds with designs traced on them in gold. The style was not absolutely new in Kaga. We find similar decoration on old and choice examples of Kutani-yaki. But the character of the old red differs essentially from that of the modern manufacture—the former being a soft, subdued colour, more like a bloom than an enamel; the latter a glossy and comparatively crude pigment. In Hachiroemon’s time and during the twenty years following the date of his innovation, many beautiful examples of elaborately decorated Kutani porcelain were produced. The richness, profusion and microscopic accuracy of their decoration could scarcely have been surpassed; but, with very rare exceptions, their lack of delicacy of technique disqualifies them to rank as fine porcelains.
It was at the little village of Seto, some five miles from Nagoya, the chief town of the province of Owari, or Bishū, that the celebrated Kato Shirozaemon made the first Japanese faience worthy to be considered a technical success. Shirozaemon produced dainty little tea-jars, ewers and other cha-no-yu Owari. utensils. These, being no longer stoved in an inverted position, as had been the habit before Shirozaemon’s time, were not disfigured by the bare, blistered lips of their predecessors. Their pâte was close and well-manufactured pottery, varying in colour from dark brown to russet, and covered with thick, lustrous glazes—black, amber-brown, chocolate and yellowish grey. These glazes were not monochromatic: they showed differences of tint, and sometimes marked varieties of colour; as when chocolate-brown passed into amber, or black was relieved by streaks and clouds of grey and dead-leaf red. This ware came to be known as Tōshiro-yaki, a term obtained by combining the second syllable of Katō with the two first of Shirozaemon. A genuine example of it is at present worth many times its weight in gold to Japanese dilettanti, though in foreign eyes it is little more than interesting. Shirozaemon was succeeded at the kiln by three generations of his family, each representative retaining the name of Tōshiro, and each distinguishing himself by the excellence of his work. Thenceforth Seto became the headquarters of the manufacture of cha-no-yu utensils, and many of the tiny pieces turned out there deserve high admiration, their technique being perfect, and their mahogany, russet-brown, amber and buff glazes showing wonderful lustre and richness. Seto, in fact, acquired such a widespread reputation for its ceramic productions that the term seto-mono (Seto article) came to be used generally for all pottery and porcelain, just as “China” is in the West. Seto has now ceased to be a pottery-producing centre, and has become the chief porcelain manufactory of Japan. The porcelain industry was inaugurated in 1807 by Tamikichi, a local ceramist, who had visited Hizen and spent three years there studying the necessary processes. Owari abounds in porcelain stone; but it does not occur in constant or particularly simple forms, and as the potters have not yet learned to treat their materials scientifically, their work is often marred by unforeseen difficulties. For many years after Tamikichi’s processes had begun to be practised, the only decoration employed was blue under the glaze. Sometimes Chinese cobalt was used, sometimes Japanese, and sometimes a mixture of both. To Kawamoto Hansuke, who flourished about 1830–1845, belongs the credit of having turned out the richest and most attractive ware of this class. But, speaking generally, Japanese blues do not rank on the same decorative level with those of China. At Arita, although pieces were occasionally turned out of which the colour could not be surpassed in purity and brilliancy, the general character of the blue sous couverte was either thin or dull. At Hirado the ceramists affected a lighter and more delicate tone than that of the Chinese, and, in order to obtain it, subjected the choice pigment of the Middle Kingdom to refining processes of great severity. The Hirado blue, therefore, belongs to a special aesthetic category. But at Owari the experts were content with an inferior colour, and their blue-and-white porcelains never enjoyed a distinguished reputation, though occasionally we find a specimen of great merit.
Decoration with vitrifiable enamels over the glaze, though it began to be practised at Owari about the year 1840, never became a speciality of the place. Nowadays, indeed, numerous examples of porcelains decorated in this manner are classed among Owari products. But they receive their decoration, almost without exception, in Tōkyō or Yokohama, where a large number of artists, called e-tsuke-shi, devote themselves entirely to porcelain-painting. These men seldom use vitrifiable enamels, pigments being much more tractable and less costly. The dominant feature of the designs is pictorial. They are frankly adapted to Western taste. Indeed, of this porcelain it may be said that, from the monster pieces of blue-and-white manufactured at Seto—vases six feet high and garden pillar-lamps half as tall again do not dismay the Bishū ceramist—to tiny coffee-cups decorated in Tōkyō, with their delicate miniatures of birds, flowers, insects, fishes and so forth, everything indicates the death of the old severe aestheticism. To such a depth of debasement had the ceramic art fallen in Owari, that before the happy renaissance of the past ten years, Nagoya discredited itself by employing porcelain as a base for cloisonné enamelling. Many products of this vitiated industry have found their way into the collections of foreigners.
Pottery was produced at several hamlets in Bizen as far back as the 14th century, but ware worthy of artistic notice did not make its appearance until the close of the 16th century, when the Taikō himself paid a visit to the factory at Imbe. Thenceforth utensils for the use of the tea clubs began to be Bizen. manufactured. This Bizen-yaki was red stoneware, with thin diaphanous glaze. Made of exceedingly refractory clay, it underwent stoving for more than three weeks, and was consequently remarkable for its hardness and metallic timbre. Some fifty years later, the character of the choicest Bizen-yaki underwent a marked change. It became slate-coloured or bluish-brown faience, with pâte as fine as pipe-clay, but very hard. In the ao-Bizen (blue Bizen), as well as in the red variety, figures of mythical beings and animals, birds, fishes and other natural objects, were modelled with a degree of plastic ability that can scarcely be spoken of in too high terms. Representative specimens are truly admirable—every line, every contour faithful. The production was very limited, and good pieces soon ceased to be procurable except at long intervals and heavy expense. The Bizen-yaki familiar to Western collectors is comparatively coarse brown or reddish brown, stoneware, modelled rudely, though sometimes redeemed by touches of the genius never entirely absent from the work of the Japanese artisan-artist. Easy to be confounded with it is another ware of the same type manufactured at Shidoro in the province of Tōtōmi.
The Japanese potters could never vie with the Chinese in the production of glazes: the wonderful monochromes and polychromes of the Middle Kingdom had no peers anywhere. In Japan they were most closely approached by the faience of Takatori in the province of Chikuzen. In its early days the Takatori. ceramic industry of this province owed something to the assistance of Korean experts who settled there after the expedition of 1592. But its chief development took place under the direction of Igarashi Jizaemon, an amateur ceramist, who, happening to visit Chikuzen about 1620, was taken under the protection of the chief of the fief and munificently treated. Taking the renowned yao-pien-yao, or “transmutation ware” of China as a model, the Takatori potters endeavoured, by skilful mixing of colouring materials, to reproduce the wonderful effects of oxidization seen in the Chinese ware. They did not, indeed, achieve their ideal, but they did succeed in producing some exquisitely lustrous glazes of the flambé type, rich transparent brown passing into claret colour, with flecks or streaks of white and clouds of “iron dust.” The pâte of this faience was of the finest description, and the technique in every respect faultless. Unfortunately, the best experts confined themselves to working for the tea clubs, and consequently produced only insignificant pieces, as tea-jars, cups and little ewers. During the 18th century, a departure was made from these strict canons. From this period date most of the specimens best known outside Japan—cleverly modelled figures of mythological beings and animals covered with lustrous variegated glazes, the general colours being grey or buff, with tints of green, chocolate, brown and sometimes blue.
A ware of which considerable quantities have found their way westward of late years in the Awaji-yaki, so called from the island of Awaji where it is manufactured in the village of Iga. It was first produced between the years 1830 and 1840 by one Kajū Mimpei, a man of considerable private means who Awaji. devoted himself to the ceramic art out of pure enthusiasm. His story is full of interest, but it must suffice here to note the results of his enterprise. Directing his efforts at first to reproducing the deep green and straw-yellow glazes of China, he had exhausted almost his entire resources before success came, and even then the public was slow to recognize the merits of his ware. Nevertheless he persevered, and in 1838 we find him producing not only green and yellow monochromes, but also greyish white and mirror-black glazes of high excellence. So thoroughly had he now mastered the management of glazes that he could combine yellow, green, white and claret colour in regular patches to imitate tortoise-shell. Many of his pieces have designs incised or in relief, and others are skilfully decorated with gold and silver. Awaji-yaki, or Mimpei-yaki as it is often called, is generally porcelain, but we occasionally find specimens which may readily be mistaken for Awata faience.
Banko faience is a universal favourite with foreign collectors. The type generally known to them is exceedingly light ware, for the most part made of light grey, unglazed clay, and having hand-modelled decoration in relief. But there are numerous varieties. Chocolate or dove-coloured grounds with delicate Banko. diapers in gold and engobe; brown or black faience with white, yellow and pink designs incised or in relief; pottery curiously and deftly marbled by combinations of various coloured clays—these and many other kinds are to be found, all, however, presenting one common feature, namely, skilful finger-moulding and a slight roughening of the surface as though it had received the impression of coarse linen or crape before baking. This modern banko-yaki is produced chiefly at Yokkaichi in the province of Ise. It is entirely different from the original banko-ware made in Kuwana, in the same province, by Numanami Gozaemon at the close of the 18th century. Gozaemon was an imitator. He took for his models the raku faience of Kiōto, the masterpieces of Ninsei and Kenzan, the rococo wares of Korea, the enamelled porcelain of China, and the blue-and-white ware of Delft. He did not found a school, simply because he had nothing new to teach, and the fact that a modern ware goes by the same name as his productions is simply because his seal—the inscription on which (banko, everlasting) suggested the name of the ware—subsequently (1830) fell into the hands of one Mori Yūsetsu, who applied it to his own ware. Mori Yūsetsu, however, had more originality than Numanami. He conceived the idea of shaping his pieces by putting the mould inside and pressing the clay with the hand into the matrix. The consequence was that his wares received the design on the inner as well as the outer surface, and were moreover thumb-marked—essential characteristics of the banko-yaki now so popular.
Among a multitude of other Japanese wares, space allows us to mention only two, those of Izumo and Yatsushiro. The chief of the former is faience, having light grey, close pâte and yellow or straw-coloured glaze, with or without crackle, Izumo. to which is applied decoration in gold and green enamel. Another variety has chocolate glaze, clouded with amber and flecked with gold dust. The former faience had its origin at the close of the 17th century, the latter at the close of the 18th; but the Izumo-yaki now procurable is a modern production.
The Yatsushiro faience is a production of the province of Higo, where a number of Korean potters settled at the close of the 17th century. It is the only Japanese ware in which the characteristics of a Korean original are unmistakably preserved. Its diaphanous, pearl-grey glaze, uniform, lustrous and finely Yatsushiro. crackled, overlying encaustic decoration in white slip, the fineness of its warm reddish pâte, and the general excellence of its technique, have always commanded admiration. It is produced now in considerable quantities, but the modern ware falls far short of its predecessor.
Many examples of the above varieties deserve the enthusiastic admiration they have received, yet they unquestionably belong to a lower rank of ceramic achievements than the choice productions of Chinese kilns. The potters of the Middle Kingdom, from the early eras of the Ming dynasty down to the latest years of the 18th century, stood absolutely without rivals as makers of porcelain. Their technical ability was incomparable—though in grace of decorative conception they yielded the palm to the Japanese—and the representative specimens they bequeathed to posterity remained, until quite recently, far beyond the imitative capacity of European or Asiatic experts. As for faience and pottery, however, the Chinese despised them in all forms, with one notable exception, the yi-hsing-yao, known in the Occident as boccaro. Even the yi-hsing-yao, too, owed much of its popularity to special utility. It was essentially the ware of the tea-drinker. If in the best specimens exquisite modelling, wonderful accuracy of finish and pâtes of interesting tints are found, such pieces are, none the less, stamped prominently with the character of utensils rather than with that of works of art. In short, the artistic output of Chinese kilns in their palmiest days was, not faience or pottery, but porcelain, whether of soft or hard paste. Japan, on the contrary, owes her ceramic distinction in the main to her faience. A great deal has been said by enthusiastic writers about the famille chrysanthemo-péonienne of Imari and the genre Kakiemon of Nabeshima, but these porcelains, beautiful as they undoubtedly are, cannot be placed on the same level with the kwan-yao and famille rose of the Chinese experts. The Imari ware, even though its thick biscuit and generally ungraceful shapes be omitted from the account, shows no enamels that can rival the exquisitely soft, broken tints of the famille rose; and the Kakiemon porcelain, for all its rich though chaste contrasts, lacks the delicate transmitted tints of the shell-like kwan-yao. So, too, the blue-and-white porcelain of Hirado, though assisted by exceptional tenderness of sous-pâte colour, by milk-white glaze, by great beauty of decorative design, and often by an admirable use of the modelling or graving tool, represents a ceramic achievement palpably below the soft paste kai-pien-yao of King-te-chen. It is a curious and interesting fact that this last product of Chinese skill remained unknown in Japan down to very recent days. In the eyes of a Chinese connoisseur, no blue-and-white porcelain worthy of consideration exists, or ever has existed, except the kai-pien-yao, with its imponderable pâte, its wax-like surface, and its rich, glowing blue, entirely free from superficiality or garishness and broken into a thousand tints by the microscopic crackle of the glaze. The Japanese, although they obtained from their neighbour almost everything of value she had to give them, did not know this wonderful ware, and their ignorance is in itself sufficient to prove their ceramic inferiority. There remains, too, a wide domain in which the Chinese developed high skill, whereas the Japanese can scarcely be said to have entered it at all; namely, the domain of monochromes and polychromes, striking every note of colour from the richest to the most delicate; the domain of truité and flambé glazes, of yō-pien-yao (transmutation ware), and of egg-shell with incised or translucid decoration. In all that region of achievement the Chinese potters stood alone and seemingly unapproachable. The Japanese, on the contrary, made a specialty of faience, and in that particular line they reached a high standard of excellence. No faience produced either in China or any other Oriental country can dispute the palm with really representative specimens of Satsuma ware. Not without full reason have Western connoisseurs lavished panegyrics upon that exquisite production. The faience of the Kiōto artists never reached quite to the level of the Satsuma in quality of pâte and glowing mellowness of decoration; their materials were slightly inferior. But their skill as decorators was as great as its range was wide, and they produced a multitude of masterpieces on which alone Japan’s ceramic fame might safely be rested.
When the mediatization of the fiefs, in 1871, terminated
the local patronage hitherto extended so munificently to
artists, the Japanese ceramists gradually learned
that they must thenceforth depend chiefly upon the
markets of Europe and America. They had to
Change of Style
after the Restoration. appeal, in short, to an entirely new public, and how to secure its approval was to them a perplexing problem. Having little to guide them, they often interpreted Western taste incorrectly, and impaired their own reputation in a corresponding degree. Thus, in the early years of the Meiji era, there was a period of complete prostitution. No new skill was developed, and what remained of the old was expended chiefly upon the manufacture of meretricious objects, disfigured by excess of decoration and not relieved by any excellence of technique. In spite of their artistic defects, these specimens were exported in considerable numbers by merchants in the foreign settlements, and their first cost being very low, they found a not unremunerative market. But as European and American collectors became better acquainted with the capacities of the pre-Meiji potters, the great inferiority of these new specimens was recognized, and the prices commanded by the old wares gradually appreciated. What then happened was very natural: imitations of the old wares were produced, and having been sufficiently disfigured by staining and other processes calculated to lend an air of rust and age, they were sold to ignorant persons, who laboured under the singular yet common hallucination that the points to be looked for in specimens from early kilns were, not technical excellence, decorative tastefulness and richness of colour, but dinginess, imperfections and dirt; persons who imagined, in short, that defects which they would condemn at once in new porcelains ought to be regarded as merits in old. Of course a trade of that kind, based on deception, could not have permanent success. One of the imitators of “old Satsuma” was among the first to perceive that a new line must be struck out. Yet the earliest results of his awakened perception helped to demonstrate still further the depraved spirit that had come over Japanese art. For he applied himself to manufacture wares having a close affinity with the shocking monstrosities used for sepulchral purposes in ancient Apulia, where fragments of dissected satyrs, busts of nymphs or halves of horses were considered graceful excrescences for the adornment of an amphora or a pithos. This Makuzu faience, produced by the now justly celebrated Miyagawa Shōzan of Ota (near Yokohama), survives in the form of vases and pots having birds, reptiles, flowers, crustacea and so forth plastered over the surface—specimens that disgrace the period of their manufacture, and represent probably the worst aberration of Japanese ceramic conception.
A production so degraded as the early Makuzu faience could
not possibly have a lengthy vogue. Miyagawa soon began to
cast about for a better inspiration, and found it in
the monochromes and polychromes of the Chinese
Kang-hsi and Yung-cheng kilns. The extraordinary
Chinese Models. value attaching to the incomparable red glazes of China, not only in the country of their origin but also in the United States, where collectors showed a fine instinct in this matter, seems to have suggested to Miyagawa the idea of imitation. He took for model the rich and delicate “liquid-dawn” monochrome, and succeeded in producing some specimens of considerable merit. Thenceforth his example was largely followed, and it may now be said that the tendency of many of the best Japanese ceramists is to copy Chinese chefs-d’œuvre. To find them thus renewing their reputation by reverting to Chinese models, is not only another tribute to the perennial supremacy of Chinese porcelains, but also a fresh illustration of the eclectic genius of Japanese art. All the products of this new effort are porcelains proper. Seven kilns are devoted, wholly or in part, to the new wares: belonging to Miyagawa Shōzan of Ota, Seifū Yōhei of Kiōto, Takemoto Hayata and Katō Tomojiro of Tōkyō, Higuchi Haruzane of Hirado, Shida Yasukyo of Kaga and Kato Masukichi of Seto.
Among the seven ceramists here enumerated, Seifū of Kiōto probably enjoys the highest reputation. If we except the ware of Satsuma, it may be said that nearly all the fine faience of Japan was manufactured formerly in Kiōto. Nomura Ninsei, in the middle of the 17th century, inaugurated Seifū of Kiōto. a long era of beautiful productions with his cream-like “fish-roe” craquelé glazes, carrying rich decoration of clear and brilliant vitrifiable enamels. It was he who gave their first really artistic impulse to the kilns of Awata, Mizoro and Iwakura, whence so many delightful specimens of faience issued almost without interruption until the middle of the 19th century and continue to issue to-day. The three Kenzan, of whom the third died in 1820; Ebisei; the four Dōhachi, of whom the fourth was still alive in 1909; the Kagiya family, manufacturers of the celebrated Kinkōzan ware; Hōzan, whose imitations of Delft faience and his pâte-sur-pâte pieces with fern-scroll decoration remain incomparable; Taizan Yōhei, whose ninth descendant of the same name now produces fine specimens of Awata ware for foreign markets; Tanzan Yōshitaro and his son Rokuro, to whose credit stands a new departure in the form of faience having pâte-sur-pâte decoration of lace patterns, diapers and archaic designs executed in low relief with admirable skill and minuteness; the two Bizan, renowned for their representations of richly apparelled figures as decorative motives; Rokubei, who studied painting under Maruyama Ōkyō and followed the naturalistic style of that great artist; Mokubei, the first really expert manufacturer of translucid porcelain in Kiōto; Shūhei, Kintei, and above all, Zengoro Hōzen, the celebrated potter of Eiraku wares—these names and many others give to Kiōto ceramics an eminence as well as an individuality which few other wares of Japan can boast. Nor is it to be supposed that the ancient capital now lacks great potters. Okamura Yasutaro, commonly called Shōzan, produces specimens which only a very acute connoisseur can distinguish from the work of Nomura Ninsei; Tanzan Rokuro’s half-tint enamels and soft creamy glazes would have stood high in any epoch; Taizan Yōhei produces Awata faience not inferior to that of former days; Kagiya Sōbei worthily supports the reputation of the Kinkōzan ware; Kawamoto Eijiro has made to the order of a well-known Kiōto firm many specimens now figuring in foreign collections as old masterpieces; and Itō Tōzan succeeds in decorating faience with seven colours sous couverte (black, green, blue, russet-red, tea-brown, purple and peach), a feat never before accomplished. It is therefore an error to assert that Kiōto has no longer a title to be called a great ceramic centre. Seifū Yōhei, however, has the special faculty of manufacturing monochromatic and jewelled porcelain and faience, which differ essentially from the traditional Kiōto types, their models being taken directly from China. But a sharp distinction has to be drawn between the method of Seifū and that of the other six ceramists mentioned above as following Chinese fashions. It is this, that whereas the latter produce their chromatic effects by mixing the colouring matter with the glaze, Seifū paints the biscuit with a pigment over which he runs a translucid colourless glaze. The Kiōto artist’s process is much easier than that of his rivals, and although his monochromes are often of most pleasing delicacy and fine tone, they do not belong to the same category of technical excellence as the wares they imitate. From this judgment must be excepted, however, his ivory-white and céladon wares, as well as his porcelains decorated with blue, or blue and red sous couverte, and with vitrifiable enamels over the glaze. In these five varieties he is emphatically great. It cannot be said, indeed, that his céladon shows the velvety richness of surface and tenderness of colour that distinguished the old Kuang-yao and Lungchuan-yao of China, or that he has ever essayed the moss-edged crackle of the beautiful Ko-yao. But his céladon certainly equals the more modern Chinese examples from the Kang-hsi and Yung-cheng kilns. As for his ivory-white, it distinctly surpasses the Chinese Ming Chen-yao in every quality except an indescribable intimacy of glaze and pâte which probably can never be obtained by either Japanese or European methods.
Miyagawa Shōzan, or Makuzu, as he is generally called, has never followed Seifū’s example in descending from the difficult manipulation of coloured glazes to the comparatively simple process of painted biscuit. This comment does not refer to the use of blue and red sous couverte. In that Miyagawa Shōzan. class of beautiful ware the application of pigment to the unglazed pâte is inevitable, and both Seifū and Miyagawa, working on the same lines as their Chinese predecessors, produce porcelains that almost rank with choice Kang-hsi specimens, though they have not yet mastered the processes sufficiently to employ them in the manufacture of large imposing pieces or wares of moderate price. But in the matter of true monochromatic and polychromatic glazes, to Shōzan belongs the credit of having inaugurated Chinese fashions, and if he has never fully succeeded in achieving lang-yao (sang-de-bœuf), chi-hung (liquid-dawn red), chiang-tou-hung (bean-blossom red, the “peach-blow” of American collectors), or above all pin-kwo-tsing (apple-green with red bloom), his efforts to imitate them have resulted in some very interesting pieces.
Takemoto and Katō of Tōkyō entered the field subsequently to Shōzan, but followed the same models approximately. Takemoto, however, has made a speciality of black glazes, his aim being to rival the Sung Chien-yao, with its glaze of mirror-black or raven’s-wing green, and its leveret Tōkyō Ceramists. fur streaking or russet-moss dappling, the prince of all wares in the estimation of the Japanese tea-clubs. Like Shōzan, he is still very far from his original, but, also like Shōzan, he produces highly meritorious pieces in his efforts to reach an ideal that will probably continue to elude him for ever. Of Katō there is not much to be said. He has not succeeded in winning great distinction, but he manufactures some very delicate monochromes, fully deserving to be classed among prominent evidences of the new departure. Tōkyō was never a centre of ceramic production. Even during the 300 years of its conspicuous prosperity as the administrative capital of the Tokugawa shōguns, it had no noted factories, doubtless owing to the absence of any suitable potter’s clay in the immediate vicinity. Its only notable production of a ceramic character was the work of Miura Kenya (1830–1843), who followed the methods of the celebrated Haritsu (1688–1704) of Kiōto in decorating plain or lacquered wood with mosaics of raku faience having coloured glazes. Kenya was also a skilled modeller of figures, and his factory in the Imado suburb obtained a considerable reputation for work of that nature. He was succeeded by Tozawa Benshi, an old man of over seventy in 1909, who, using clay from Owari or Hizen, has turned out many porcelain statuettes of great beauty. But although the capital of Japan formerly played only an insignificant part in Japanese ceramics, modern Tōkyō has an important school of artist-artisans. Every year large quantities of porcelain and faience are sent from the provinces to the capital to receive surface decoration, and in wealth of design as well as carefulness of execution the results are praiseworthy. But of the pigments employed nothing very laudatory could be said until very recent times. They were generally crude, of impure tone, and without depth or brilliancy. Now, however, they have lost these defects and entered a period of considerable excellence. Figure-subjects constitute the chief feature of the designs. A majority of the artists are content to copy old pictures of Buddha’s sixteen disciples, the seven gods of happiness, and other similar assemblages of mythical or historical personages, not only because such work offers large opportunity for the use of striking colours and the production of meretricious effects, dear to the eye of the average Western householder and tourist, but also because a complicated design, as compared with a simple one, has the advantage of hiding the technical imperfections of the ware. Of late there have happily appeared some decorators who prefer to choose their subjects from the natural field in which their great predecessors excelled, and there is reason to hope that this more congenial and more pleasing style will supplant its modern usurper. The best known factory in Tōkyō for decorative purposes is the Hyōchi-en. It was established in the Fukagawa suburb in 1875, with the immediate object of preparing specimens for the first Tōkyō exhibition held at that time. Its founders obtained a measure of official aid, and were able to secure the services of some good artists, among whom may be mentioned Obanawa and Shimauchi. The porcelains of Owari and Arita naturally received most attention at the hands of the Hyōchi-en decorators, but there was scarcely one of the principal wares of Japan upon which they did not try their skill, and if a piece of monochromatic Minton or Sèvres came in their way, they undertook to improve it by the addition of designs copied from old masters or suggested by modern taste. The cachet of the Fukagawa atelier was indiscriminately applied to all such pieces, and has probably proved a source of confusion to collectors. Many other factories for decoration were established from time to time in Tōkyō. Of these some still exist; others, ceasing to be profitable, have been abandoned. On the whole, the industry may now be said to have assumed a domestic character. In a house, presenting no distinctive features whatsoever, one finds the decorator with a cupboard full of bowls and vases of glazed biscuit, which he adorns, piece by piece, using the simplest conceivable apparatus and a meagre supply of pigments. Sometimes he fixes the decoration himself, employing for that purpose a small kiln which stands in his back garden; sometimes he entrusts this part of the work to a factory. As in the case of everything Japanese, there is no pretence, no useless expenditure about the process. Yet it is plain that this school of Tōkyō decorators, though often choosing their subjects badly, have contributed much to the progress of the ceramic art during the past few years. Little by little there has been developed a degree of skill which compares not unfavourably with the work of the old masters. Table services of Owari porcelain—the ware itself excellently manipulated and of almost egg-shell fineness—are now decorated with floral scrolls, landscapes, insects, birds, figure-subjects and all sorts of designs, chaste, elaborate or quaint; and these services, representing so much artistic labour and originality, are sold for prices that bear no due ratio to the skill required in their manufacture.
There is only one reservation to be made in speaking of the modern decorative industry of Japan under its better aspects. In Tōkyō, Kiōto, Yokohama and Kobe—in all of which places decorating ateliers (etsuke-dokoro), similar to those of Tōkyō, have been established in modern times—the artists use chiefly pigments, seldom venturing to employ vitrifiable enamels. That the results achieved with these different materials are not comparable is a fact which every connoisseur must admit. The glossy surface of a porcelain glaze is ill fitted for rendering artistic effects with ordinary colours. The proper field for the application of these is the biscuit, in which position the covering glaze serves at once to soften and to preserve the pigment. It can scarcely be doubted that the true instincts of the ceramist will ultimately counsel him to confine his decoration over the glaze to vitrifiable enamels, with which the Chinese and Japanese potters of former times obtained such brilliant results. But to employ enamels successfully is an achievement demanding special training and materials not easy to procure or to prepare. The Tōkyō decorators are not likely, therefore, to change their present methods immediately.
An impetus was given to ceramic decoration by the efforts of a new school, which owed its origin to Dr G. Wagener, an eminent German expert formerly in the service of the Japanese government. Dr Wagener conceived the idea of developing the art of decoration under the glaze, as applied to faience. Faience thus decorated has always been exceptional in Japan. Rare specimens were produced in Satsuma and Kiōto, the colour employed being chiefly blue, though brown and black were used in very exceptional instances. The difficulty of obtaining clear, rich tints was nearly prohibitive, and though success, when achieved, seemed to justify the effort, this class of ware never received much attention in Japan. By careful selection and preparation of pâte, glaze and pigments, Dr Wagener proved not only that the manufacture was reasonably feasible, but also that decoration thus applied to pottery possesses unique delicacy and softness. Ware manufactured by his direction at the Tōkyō school of technique (shokkô gakkô), under the name of asahi-yaki, ranks among the interesting productions of modern Japan. The decorative colour chiefly employed is chocolate brown, which harmonizes excellently with the glaze. But the ware has never found favour in Japanese eyes, an element of unpleasant garishness being imparted to it by the vitreous appearance of the glaze, which is manufactured according to European methods. The modern faience of Ito Tōzan of Kiōto, decorated with colour under the glaze, is incomparably more artistic than the Tōkyō asahi-yaki, from which, nevertheless, the Kiōto master doubtless borrowed some ideas. The decorative industry in Tōkyō owed much also to the kōshō-kaisha, an institution started by Wakai and Matsuo in 1873, with official assistance. Owing to the intelligent patronage of this company, and the impetus given to the ceramic trade by its enterprise, the style of the Tōkyō etsuke was much improved and the field of their industry extended. It must be acknowledged, however, that the Tōkyō artists often devote their skill to purposes of forgery, and that their imitations, especially of old Satsuma-yaki, are sometimes franked by dealers whose standing should forbid such frauds. In this context it may be mentioned that, of late years, decoration of a remarkably microscopic character has been successfully practised in Kiōto, Osaka and Kobe, its originator being Meisan of Osaka. Before dismissing the subject of modern Tōkyō ceramics, it may be added that Katō Tomatarō, mentioned above in connexion with the manufacture of special glazes, has also been very successful in producing porcelains decorated with blue sous couverte at his factory in the Koishikawa suburb.
Higuchi of Hirado is to be classed with ceramists of the new school
on account of one ware only, namely, porcelain having translucid
decoration, the so-called “grains of rice” of American
collectors, designated hotaru-de (firefly style) in Japan.
That, however, is an achievement of no small consequence,
of Hirado. especially since it had never previously been essayed outside China. The Hirado expert has not yet attained technical skill equal to that of the Chinese. He cannot, like them, cover the greater part of a specimen’s surface with a lacework of transparent decoration, exciting wonder that pâte deprived so greatly of continuity could have been manipulated without accident. But his artistic instincts are higher than those of the Chinese, and there is reasonable hope that in time he may excel their best works. In other respects the Hirado factories do not produce wares nearly so beautiful as those manufactured there between 1759 and 1840, when the Hirado-yaki stood at the head of all Japanese porcelain on account of its pure, close-grained pâte, its lustrous milk-white glaze, and the soft clear blue of its carefully executed decoration.
The Owari potters were slow to follow the lead of Miyagawa Shōzan and Seifū Yōhei. At the industrial exhibition in Kiōto (1895) the first results of their efforts were shown, attracting attention at once. In medieval times Owari was celebrated for faience glazes of various colours, Ware of Owari. much affected by the tea-clubs, but its staple manufacture from the beginning of the 19th century was porcelain decorated with blue under the glaze, the best specimens of which did not approach their Chinese prototypes in fineness of pâte, purity of glaze or richness of colour. During the first twenty-five years of the Meiji era the Owari potters sought to compensate the technical and artistic defects of their pieces by giving them magnificent dimensions; but at the Tōkyō industrial exhibition (1891) they were able to contribute some specimens showing decorative, plastic and graving skill of no mean order. Previously to that time, one of the Seto experts, Katō Gosuke, had developed remarkable ability in the manufacture of céladon, though in that field he was subsequently distanced by Seifū of Kiōto. Only lately did Owari feel the influence of the new movement towards Chinese types. Its potters took flambé glazes for models, and their pieces possessed an air of novelty that attracted connoisseurs. But the style was not calculated to win general popularity, and the manufacturing processes were too easy to occupy the attention of great potters. On a far higher level stood egg-shell porcelain, remarkable examples of which were sent from Seto to the Kiōto industrial exhibition of 1895. Chinese potters of the Yung-lo era (1403–1414) enriched their country with a quantity of ware to which the name of totai-ki (bodiless utensil) was given on account of its wonderfully attenuated pâte. The finest specimens of this porcelain had incised decoration, sparingly employed but adding much to the beauty of the piece. In subsequent eras the potters of King-te-chen did not fail to continue this remarkable manufacture, but its only Japanese representative was a porcelain distinctly inferior in more than one respect, namely, the egg-shell utensils of Hizen and Hirado, some of which had finely woven basket-cases to protect their extreme fragility. The Seto experts, however, are now making bowls, cups and vases that rank nearly as high as the celebrated Yung-lo totai-ki. In purity of tone and velvet-like gloss of surface there is distinct inferiority on the side of the Japanese ware, but in thinness of pâte it supports comparison, and in profusion and beauty of incised decoration it excels its Chinese original.
Latest of all to acknowledge the impulse of the new departure have been the potters of Kaga. For many years their ware enjoyed the credit, or discredit, of being the most lavishly decorated porcelain in Japan. It is known to Western collectors as a product blazing with red and gold, a very degenerate Ware of Kaga. offspring of the Chinese Ming type, which Hozen of Kiōto reproduced so beautifully at the beginning of the 19th century under the name of eiraku-yaki. Undoubtedly the best specimens of this kinran-de (brocade) porcelain of Kaga merit praise and admiration; but, on the whole, ware so gaudy could not long hold a high place in public esteem. The Kaga potters ultimately appreciated that defect. They still manufacture quantities of tea and coffee sets, and dinner or dessert services of red-and-gold porcelain for foreign markets; but about 1885 some of them made zealous and patient efforts to revert to the processes that won so much fame for the old Kutani-yaki, with its grand combinations of rich, lustrous, soft-toned glazes. The attempt was never entirely successful, but its results restored something of the Kaga kilns’ reputation. Since 1895, again, a totally new departure has been made by Morishita Hachizaemon, a ceramic expert, in conjunction with Shida Yasukyo, president of the Kaga products joint stock company (Kaga bussan kabushiki kaisha) and teacher in the Kaga industrial school. The line chosen by these ceramists is purely Chinese. Their great aim seems to be the production of the exquisite Chinese monochromes known as u-kwo-tien-tsing (blue of the sky after rain) and yueh-peh (clair-de-lune). But they also devote much attention to porcelains decorated with blue or red sous couverte. Their work shows much promise, but like all fine specimens of the Sino-Japanese school, the prices are too high to attract wide custom.
The sum of the matter is that the modern Japanese ceramist, after many efforts to cater for the taste of the Occident, evidently concludes that his best hope consists in devoting all his technical and artistic resources to reproducing the celebrated wares of China. In explanation of Summary. the fact that he did not essay this route in former times, it may be noted, first, that he had only a limited acquaintance with the wares in question; secondly, that Japanese connoisseurs never attached any value to their countrymen’s imitation of Chinese porcelains so long as the originals were obtainable; thirdly, that the ceramic art of China not having fallen into its present state of decadence, the idea of competing with it did not occur to outsiders; and fourthly, that Europe and America had not developed their present keen appreciation of Chinese masterpieces. Yet it is remarkable that China, at the close of the 19th century, should have again furnished models to Japanese eclecticism.
Lacquer.—Japan derived the art of lacquering from China (probably about the beginning of the 6th century), but she ultimately carried it far beyond Chinese conception. At first her experts confined themselves to plain black lacquer. From the early part of the 8th century they began to ornament it with dust of gold or mother-of-pearl, and throughout the Heian epoch (9th to 12th century) they added pictorial designs, though of a formal character, the chief motives being floral subjects, arabesques and scrolls. All this work was in the style known as hira-makie (flat decoration); that is to say, having the decorative design in the same plane as the ground. In the days of the great dilettante Yoshimasa (1449–1490), lacquer experts devised a new style, taka-makie, or decoration in relief, which immensely augmented the beauty of the ware, and constituted a feature altogether special to Japan. Thus when, at the close of the 16th century, the Taikō inaugurated the fashion of lavishing all the resources of applied art on the interior decoration of castles and temples, the services of the lacquerer were employed to an extent hitherto unknown, and there resulted some magnificent work on friezes, coffered ceilings, door panels, altar-pieces and cenotaphs. This new departure reached its climax in the Tokugawa mausolea of Yedo and Nikkō, which are enriched by the possession of the most splendid applications of lacquer decoration the world has ever seen, nor is it likely that anything of comparable beauty and grandeur will be again produced in the same line. Japanese connoisseurs indicate the end of the 17th century as the golden period of the art, and so deeply rooted is this belief that whenever a date has to be assigned to any specimen of exceptionally fine quality, it is unhesitatingly referred to the time of Joken-in (Tsunayoshi).
Among the many skilled artists who have practised this beautiful craft since the first on record, Kiyohara Norisuye (c. 1169), may be mentioned Kōyetsu (1558–1637) and his pupils, who are especially noted for their inro (medicine-cases worn as part of the costume); Kajikawa Kinjirō (c. 1680), the founder of the great Kajikawa family, which continued up to the 19th century; and Koma Kyūhaku (d. 1715), whose pupils and descendants maintained his traditions for a period of equal length. Of individual artists, perhaps the most notable is Ogata Kōrin (d. 1716), whose skill was equally great in the arts of painting and pottery. He was the eldest son of an artist named Ogato Sōken, and studied the styles of the Kanō and Tosa schools successively. Among the artists who influenced him were Kanō Tsunenobu, Nomura Sōtatsu and Kōyetsu. His lacquer-ware is distinguished for a bold and at times almost eccentric impressionism, and his use of inlay is strongly characteristic. Ritsuō (1663–1747), a pupil and contemporary of Kōrin, and like him a potter and painter also, was another lacquerer of great skill. Then followed Hanzan, the two Shiome, Yamamoto Shunshō and his pupils, Yamada Jōka and Kwanshōsai Tōyō (late 18th century). In the beginning of the 19th century worked Shōkwasai, who frequently collaborated with the metal-worker Shibayama, encrusting his lacquer with small decorations in metal by the latter.
No important new developments have taken place during modern times in Japan’s lacquer manufacture. Her artists follow the old ways faithfully; and indeed it is not easy to see how they could do better. On the other hand, there has not been any deterioration; all the skill of former days Modern Work. is still active. The contrary has been repeatedly affirmed by foreign critics, but no one really familiar with modern productions can entertain such a view. Lacquer-making, however, being essentially an art and not a mere handicraft, has its eras of great masters and its seasons of inferior execution. Men of the calibre of Kōyetsu Kōrin, Ritsuō, Kajikawa and Mitsutoshi must be rare in any age, and the epoch when they flourished is justly remembered with enthusiasm. But the Meiji era has had its Zeshin, and it had in 1909 Shirayama Fukumatsu, Kawanabe Itchō, Ogāwa Shōmin, Uematsu Hōmin, Shibayama Sōichi, Morishita Morihachi and other lesser experts, all masters in designing and execution. Zeshin, shortly before he died, indicated Shirayama Fukumatsu as the man upon whom his mantle should descend, and that the judgment of this really great craftsman was correct cannot be denied by any one who has seen the works of Shirayama. He excels in his representations of landscapes and waterscapes, and has succeeded in transferring to gold-lacquer panels tender and delicate pictures of nature’s softest moods—pictures that show balance, richness, harmony and a fine sense of decorative proportion. Kawanabe Itchō is celebrated for his representations of flowers and foliage, and Morishita Morihachi and Asano Saburo (of Kaga) are admirable in all styles, but especially, perhaps, in the charming variety called togi-dashi (ground down), which is pre-eminent for its satin-like texture and for the atmosphere of dreamy softness that pervades the decoration. The togi-dashi design, when finely executed, seems to hang suspended in the velvety lacquer or to float under its silky surface. The magnificent sheen and richness of the pure kin-makie (gold lacquer) are wanting, but in their place we have inimitable tenderness and delicacy.
The only branch of the lacquerer’s art that can be said to have shown any marked development in the Meiji era is that in which parts of the decorative scheme consist of objects in gold, silver, shakudo, shibuichi, iron, or, above all, ivory or mother-of-pearl. It might indeed be inferred, from some of New Development. the essays published in Europe on the subject of Japan’s ornamental arts, that this application of ivory and mother-of-pearl holds a place of paramount importance. Such is not the case. Cabinets, fire-screens, plaques and boxes resplendent with gold lacquer grounds carrying elaborate and profuse decoration of ivory and mother-of-pearl are not objects that appeal to Japanese taste. They belong essentially to the catalogue of articles called into existence to meet the demand of the foreign market, being, in fact, an attempt to adapt the lacquerer’s art to decorative furniture for European houses. On the whole it is a successful attempt. The plumage of gorgeously-hued birds, the blossoms of flowers (especially the hydrangea), the folds of thick brocade, microscopic diapers and arabesques, are built up with tiny fragments of iridescent shell, in combination with silver-foil, gold-lacquer and coloured bone, the whole producing a rich and sparkling effect. In fine specimens the workmanship is extraordinarily minute, and every fragment of metal, shell, ivory or bone, used to construct the decorative scheme, is imbedded firmly in its place. But in a majority of cases the work of building is done by means of paste and glue only, so that the result lacks durability. The employment of mother-of-pearl to ornament lacquer grounds dates from a period as remote as the 8th century, but its use as a material for constructing decorative designs began in the 17th century, and was due to an expert called Shibayama, whose descendant, Shibayama Sōichi, has in recent years been associated with the same work in Tōkyō.
In the manufacture of Japanese lacquer there are three processes. The first is the extraction and preparation of the lac; the second, its application; and the third, the decoration of the lacquered surface. The lac, when taken from an incision in the trunk of the Rhus vernicifera (urushi-no-ki), contains approximately Processes. 70% of lac acid, 4% of gum arabic, 2% of albumen, and 24% of water. It is strained, deprived of its moisture, and receives an admixture of gamboge, cinnabar, acetous protoxide or some other colouring matter. The object to be lacquered, which is generally made of thin white pine, is subjected to singularly thorough and painstaking treatment, one of the processes being to cover it with a layer of Japanese paper or thin hempen cloth, which is fixed by means of a pulp of rice-paste and lacquer. In this way the danger of warping is averted, and exudations from the wooden surface are prevented from reaching the overlaid coats of lacquer. Numerous operations of luting, sizing, lacquering, polishing, drying, rubbing down, and so on, are performed by the nurimono-shi, until, after many days’ treatment, the object emerges with a smooth, lustre-like dark-grey or coloured surface, and is ready to pass into the hands of the makie-shi, or decorator. The latter is an artist; those who have performed the preliminary operations are merely skilled artisans. The makie-shi may be said to paint a picture on the surface of the already lacquered object. He takes for subject a landscape, a seascape, a battle-scene, flowers, foliage, birds, fishes, insects—in short, anything. This he sketches in outline with a paste of white lead, and then, having filled in the details with gold and colours, he superposes a coat of translucid lacquer, which is finally subjected to careful polishing. If parts of the design are to be in relief, they are built up with a putty of black lacquer, white lead, camphor and lamp-black. In all fine lacquers gold predominates so largely that the general impression conveyed by the object is one of glow and richness. It is also an inviolable rule that every part must show beautiful and highly finished work, whether it be an external or an internal part. The makie-shi ranks almost as high as the pictorial artist in Japanese esteem. He frequently signs his works, and a great number of names have been thus handed down during the past two centuries.
Cloisonné Enamel.—Cloisonné enamel is essentially of modern development in Japan. The process was known at an early period, and was employed for the purpose of subsidiary decoration from the close of the 16th century, but not until the 19th century did Japanese experts begin to manufacture the objects known in Europe as “enamels;” that is to say, vases, plaques, censers, bowls, and so forth, having their surface covered with vitrified pastes applied either in the champlevé or the cloisonné style. It is necessary to insist upon this fact, because it has been stated with apparent authority that numerous specimens which began to be exported from 1865 were the outcome of industry commencing in the 16th century and reaching its point of culmination at the beginning of the 18th. There is not the slenderest ground for such a theory. The work began in 1838, and Kaji Tsunekichi of Owari was its originator. During 20 years previously to the reopening of the country in 1858, cloisonné enamelling was practised in the manner now understood by the term; when foreign merchants began to settle in Yokohama, several experts were working skilfully in Owari after the methods of Kaji Tsunekichi. Up to that time there had been little demand for enamels of large dimensions, but when the foreign market called for vases, censers, plaques and such things, no difficulty was found in supplying them. Thus, about the year 1865, there commenced an export of enamels which had no prototypes in Japan, being destined frankly for European and American collectors. From a technical point of view these specimens had much to recommend them. The base, usually of copper, was as thin as cardboard; the cloisons, exceedingly fine and delicate, were laid on with care and accuracy; the colours were even, and the designs showed artistic judgment. Two faults, however, marred the work—first, the shapes were clumsy and unpleasing, being copied from bronzes whose solidity justified forms unsuited to thin enamelled vessels; secondly, the colours, sombre and somewhat impure, lacked the glow and mellowness that give decorative superiority to the technically inferior Chinese enamels of the later Ming and early Tsing eras. Very soon, however, the artisans of Nagoya (Owari), Yokohama and Tōkyō—where the art had been taken up—found that faithful and fine workmanship did not pay. The foreign merchant desired many and cheap specimens for export, rather than few and costly. There followed then a period of gradual decline, and the enamels exported to Europe showed so much inferiority that they were supposed to be the products of a widely different era and of different makers. The industry was threatened with extinction, and would certainly have dwindled to insignificant dimensions had not a few earnest artists, working in the face of many difficulties and discouragements, succeeded in striking out new lines and establishing new standards for excellence.
Three clearly differentiated schools now (1875) came into existence. One, headed by Namikawa Yasuyuki of Kiōto, took for its objects the utmost delicacy and perfection of technique, richness of decoration, purity of design and harmony of colour. The thin clumsily-shaped vases of the Kaji New Schools. school, with their uniformly distributed decoration of diapers, scrolls and arabesques in comparatively dull colours, ceased altogether to be produced, their place being taken by graceful specimens, technically flawless, and carrying designs not only free from stiffness, but also executed in colours at once rich and soft. This school may be subdivided, Kiōto representing one branch, Nagoya, Tōkyō and Yokohama the other. In the products of the Kiōto branch the decoration generally covered the whole surface of the piece; in the products of the other branch the artist aimed rather at pictorial effect, placing the design in a monochromatic field of low tone. It is plain that such a method as the latter implies great command of coloured pastes, and, indeed, no feature of the manufacture is more conspicuous than the progress made during the period 1880–1900 in compounding and firing vitrifiable enamels. Many excellent examples of cloisonné enamel have been produced by each branch of this school. There has been nothing like them in any other country, and they stand at an immeasurable distance above the works of the early Owari school represented by Kaji Tsunekichi and his pupils and colleagues.
The second of the modern schools is headed by Namikawa Sosuke of Tōkyō. It is an easily traced outgrowth of the second branch of the first school just described, for one can readily understand that from placing the decorative design in a monochromatic field of low tone, which is essentially Cloisonless Enamels. a pictorial method, development would proceed in the direction of concealing the mechanics of the art in order to enhance the pictorial effect. Thus arose the so-called “cloisonless enamels” (musenjippō). They are not always without cloisons. The design is generally framed at the outset with a ribbon of thin metal, precisely after the manner of ordinary cloisonné ware. But as the work proceeds the cloisons are hidden—unless their presence is necessary to give emphasis to the design—and the final result is a picture in vitrified enamels.
The characteristic productions of the third among the modern schools are monochromatic and translucid enamels. All students of the ceramic art know that the monochrome porcelains of China owe their beauty to the fact that the colour is in the glaze, not under it. The ceramist Monochromatic Enamels. finds no difficulty in applying a uniform coat of pigment to porcelain biscuit, and covering the whole with a diaphanous glaze. The colour is fixed and the glaze set by secondary firing at a lower temperature than that necessary for hardening the pâte. Such porcelains, however, lack the velvet-like softness and depth of tone so justly prized in the genuine monochrome, where the glaze itself contains the colouring matter, pâte and glaze being fired simultaneously at the same high temperature. It is apparent that a vitrified enamel may be made to perform, in part at any rate, the function of a porcelain glaze. Acting upon that theory, the experts of Tōkyō and Nagoya have produced many very beautiful specimens of monochrome enamel—yellow (canary or straw), rose du Barry, liquid-dawn, red, aubergine purple, green (grass or leaf), dove-grey and lapis lazuli blue. The pieces do not quite reach the level of Chinese monochrome porcelains, but their inferiority is not marked. The artist’s great difficulty is to hide the metal base completely. A monochrome loses much of its attractiveness when the colour merges into a metal rim, or when the interior of a vase is covered with crude unpolished paste. But to spread and fix the enamel so that neither at the rim nor in the interior shall there be any break of continuity, or any indication that the base is copper, not porcelain, demands quite exceptional skill.
The translucid enamels of the modern school are generally associated with decorative bases. In other words, a suitable design is chiselled in the metal base so as to be visible through the diaphanous enamel. Very beautiful effects of broken and softened lights, combined with depth and delicacy of Translucid Enamel. colour, are thus obtained. But the decorative designs which lend themselves to such a purpose are not numerous. A gold base deeply chiselled in wave-diaper and overrun with a paste of aubergine purple is the most pleasing. A still higher achievement is to apply to the chiselled base designs executed in coloured enamels, finally covering the whole with translucid paste. Admirable results are thus produced; as when, through a medium of cerulean blue, bright goldfish and blue-backed carp appear swimming in silvery waves, or brilliantly plumaged birds seem to soar among fleecy clouds. The artists of this school show also much skill in using enamels for the purposes of subordinate decoration—suspending enamelled butterflies, birds or floral sprays, among the reticulations of a silver vase chiselled à jour; or filling with translucid enamels parts of a decorative scheme sculptured in iron, silver, gold or shakudo.
|Fig. 1.—MANJUSRI, DEITY OF WISDOM. Kosé School (13th century).||Fig. 2.—WATERFALL OF NACHI.
Attributed to Kanaoka (9th century).
|Fig. 3.—PORTRAIT OF THE PRIEST DAITO-KOKUSHI. Tosa School (14th century).|
|Fig. 4.—PRIESTS CARICATURED BY ANIMALS. By Toba Sojo (1053-1140).|
|Fig. 5.—ESCAPE OF THE EMPEROR DISGUISED AS A WOMAN. Scene from the Civil War. By Keion (13th century).|
|Fig. 6.—KWANNON, GODDESS OF MERCY. By Mincho or Cho Densu (1352–1431).||Fig. 7.—LANDSCAPE IN SNOW. By Kano Motonobu (1476–1559).||Fig. 8.—JUROJIN. By Sesshiu (1420–1506).|
Fig. 9.—PLUM TREES AND STREAM—SCREEN ON GOLD GROUND. By Korin (1661-1716).
Fig. 10.—PEACOCKS. By Ganku (1749-1838).
|Fig. 11.—VAJRA MALLA. By Unkei (13th century).||Fig. 12.—STATUE OF ASANGA (12th century, artist unknown).|
Fig. 13.—STATUES OF BUDDHA AMI’TABHA AND TWO BODHISATTVAS (7th century).
METAL WORK AND LACQUER
|Fig. 15.—BRONZE DUCK INCENSE BURNER (15th century). British Museum.|
|Fig. 16.—BRONZE MIRROR (12th to 13th century).|
|Fig 14.—DOOR OF BRONZE LANTERN IN THE TODAI TEMPLE (8th century).||Fig. 17.—INKSTONE BOX IN LACQUER. By Koyetsu (1557-1637).|
|Fig. 18.—LID OF BOX. By Korin.||Fig. 19.—CASE FOR HEAD OF A SKAKUJO.||Fig. 20.—OWL ON A BRANCH. By Ritsuo.|
POTTERY AND PORCELAIN
Fig. 23.—TEA BOWL. By Kenzan.
Fig. 24.—TEA JAR. By Ninsei.
Fig. 25.—FIGURE. By Kakiemon.
Fig. 26.—LION. By Chojiro Raku.
|Fig. 27.—CENSER, WITH KOCHI GLAZE.
|Fig. 28.—TEA JAR. By Ninsei.||Fig. 29.—BIZEN WARE. Samantabhadra.||Fig. 30.—CENSER. By Kenzan.|
- It is first boiled in a lye obtained by lixiviating wood ashes; it is next polished with charcoal powder; then immersed in plum vinegar and salt; then washed with weak lye and placed in a tub of water to remove all traces of alkali, the final step being to digest in a boiling solution of copper sulphate, verdigris and water.
- This method is some 300 years old. It is by no means a modern invention, as some writers have asserted.
- Obtained from the shell of the Halictis.