A History of Japanese Colour-Prints/GENERAL CONSIDERATIONS
1. Character of Japanese Painting.—Japanese painting, like its parent art, Chinese painting, differs from modern European painting in this, that it deliberately foregoes all means of producing an immediate illusion. It knows nothing of the third dimension, but confines itself to decorative effects in one plane; at the same time the extraordinarily developed powers of observation in the Japanese enable it to convey an unusual amount of life and spirit.
With the Japanese space is not indicated by receding degrees of depth, and if represented at all, at least in the best period of their art, is not subject to the laws of a strict perspective, being merely indicated by a series of scenes, as on the stage. Men and objects in space are not rounded, and cast no shadows; shadows so cast being, according to the Chinese doctrine, something accidental and not worthy of representation at all. Objects do not throw back the sunlight in the form of high lights, nor do they reflect other objects in their neighbourhood; this is most conspicuous in the case of water, which shows neither reflections nor high lights. Hence anything in the nature of chiaroscuro, a homogeneous scheme of light altering all the colour-values in a certain direction, is out of the question, whether in representations of interiors or the open air. Moreover, the proportions of the figures are usually quite arbitrary, partly because of insufficient attention to this point, partly from deliberate purpose.
The immobility of the features is to be explained by the peculiar Japanese notion of decorum, which insists on a constantly equable seriousness of expression, one result being that the women have their eyebrows shaved off, their lips painted blue-red (with beni), and their faces thickly covered with powder—as is not unknown in Europe. But the bodies also generally appear in a state of repose bordering on rigidity; a slight flexure—to which the loosely flowing robes yield without effort—a scarcely noticeable inclination must suffice to express the character and psychology of the person represented: even in daily life the exchange of emotions leads to no bodily contact; hand-shaking is entirely unknown, kissing is not customary, any more than walking arm-in-arm. Even the dances of the Japanese offer few occasions for livelier movement; in general they are confined to pantomime, suggesting the emotions to be conveyed by the posture of the body, the movement of legs and hands, and especially by the expression of the eye. Hence there are few opportunities for foreshortening and overlapping.
To be sure, since the end of the eighteenth century some artists had begun to break through these rules, and endeavoured to apply the notions of perspective which they learnt from Europe, to give greater depth and unity to the landscape and greater expressiveness to the figures, and indeed certain masters of earlier periods, the book-illustrators Moronobu, Sukenobu, Shigemasa, had produced designs remarkable for movement and animation. But all of them adhered to certain significant characteristics, notably the absence of shadows and modelling, so that the
whole of Japanese art, even down to its most recent past, remains in its principles fundamentally opposed to modern European art.
In order to do justice to this peculiarity of Eastern Asiatic art, we must mentally revert to the point of view of such periods as have pursued similar decorative aims in contrast to the naturalistic aims predominating to-day. In the art of Egypt and of Greece up to Alexandrine times, in the Roman and Gothic periods up to the discovery of perspective in Italy and the invention of oil-painting in Flanders at the beginning of the fifteenth century, we meet with very similar endeavours. During all these periods the art of painting was absolutely conventional, and contented itself with certain more or less fixed types that altered only very gradually; yet by the aid of a careful and precise contour, nicely calculated masses of light and shade, and a harmonious colour-scheme, it succeeded in achieving effects at once decorative and monumental, and at the same time in imparting to the representation a varying content of strength, grace, or sublimity, according to the character of the subject. By this method no imitation of nature, no complete deception or illusion is either endeavoured or attained; and yet such an art ranks at least as high in our estimation as that of the realistic period in which we ourselves are living; not only so, but we see that the greatest artists of this very period, a Raphael, a Michaelangelo, a Da Vinci, when they were brought face to face with the highest problems of decorative art, sacrificed a great part of the literal truth which they might have attained in order to augment the grandeur, intelligibility, and impressiveness of their creations, thus approaching once more the simpler ideal of the past, though unable to achieve quite the same effects as the ancients.
The attempt has been made to account for the idiosyncrasy of Eastern Asiatic art on technical grounds inherent in the nature of the country, such as the flimsy construction of the houses, which are small and offer no solid wall-space for truly monumental painting to develop on, or the exclusive use of such elementary media as water-colour and Indian ink—or the position in which the artist works, according to the custom of the country, squatting on the ground and having his painting surface spread out horizontally before him; the consequence being that he only gets, as it were, a bird's-eye view of his picture, and that in the case of the usual long rolls, he can never overlook it as a whole, any more than the spectator can, who inspects the pictures in the same attitude. Now it is quite true that oil-painting, which might easily have brought about a revolution, as it did in Europe, remained unknown to the Eastern Asiatics. Again, had not the volcanic soil, which a succession of earthquakes keeps constantly trembling, prevented the erection of solid masonry, Japanese painting would probably have witnessed a more varied development. But its general character, tendency, and aims would have remained the same; the similarity of earlier developments in Europe and the adjacent countries proves it. National peculiarities of soil and custom may give rise to local variations, but cannot determine an art in its essence; for its roots lie in the national character, which creates its means of representation and technique according to its innate ideals, but conversely will not allow the main tendencies of its art to be determined by external factors.
The imitation of Nature is for the Japanese only a means to an end, not an end in itself. Mere virtuosity in this line does not move them to admiration; were it otherwise, we need only consider their renderings of birds, fishes, insects, and flowers to be sure that, with their splendid powers of observation, they might have achieved far more than they actually have done in this direction. On the contrary, Nature in their eyes merely furnishes forth the material from which the artist draws whatever he may require for the embodiment of his personal ideals and individual tastes. On these elements he works quite arbitrarily and with absolute freedom; for painting, after the Chinese precedent, is not regarded as a technical accomplishment or a craft, but ranks on precisely the same level as calligraphy, which is a liberal art and a pastime for people of rank and culture, far more dependent upon purity of feeling, sublimity of conception, exquisiteness of taste, in short, on individual creative power, than on any mere technical dexterity or skill. This estimate of painting as the peer of calligraphy explains not only the decorative character of Japanese art, the strict formalism of its style, the great importance which it attaches to the balance of light and dark masses, the subordination of colour to purely decorative ends, but also the wonderful freedom which Japanese art has always managed to retain in spite of its tendency to formalism. For the essence of calligraphy consists, according to Chinese ideas, by no means in mere neatness and regularity of execution, which might easily lead to stiffness and frigidity, but primarily in the most perfect solution of the artistic problem consistent with the greatest economy of means. The fundamental idea, in fact, here as in all the rhythmic arts, poetry, music, architecture, is that of play. The Japanese deliberately refrains from saying all that he has to say, from giving full plasticity to his figures or depth and breadth to his spaces, from breaking up and balancing his masses by symmetrical division or repetition; all this would merely draw him away from his goal and fetter the free activity of his imagination. All his efforts are directed towards restricting himself to what is essential to his purpose, employing natural forms in the full freedom and variety of their organic growth, making his contour lines as simple and expressive as possible (Madsen thinks he recognises the Japanese norm of beauty in the S-line) and striking an individual note in his choice of colours. As the objects to be represented are simple and the deficiency in means of realistic representation is skilfully made good by specially calculated effects of colour and technique, the conventionalism of this art, which works by mere suggestion, is very much less noticeable than in the productions of other peoples that are still on a low level of development.
To what extent all this is the result of conscious intention and design is well shown by the utterances of two Japanese who express the national sentiments on this subject. The first, Shuzan, wrote as follows in the year 1777:  "Among the various kinds of painting there is one which is called the naturalistic, in which it is thought proper to represent flowers, grasses, fishes, insects, &c., exactly as they appear in Nature. This is a special style and certainly not one to be despised; but since it only aims at showing the forms of things, without regard for the canons of art, it is after all merely a commonplace and can lay no claim to good taste. In the works of former ages the study of the art of outline and of the laws of taste was held in honour, without any exact imitation of the forms of Nature." The other authority, Motoori, the most eminent scholar and writer of modern Japan, says: "Many kinds of style are now in vogue which profess to be imitations of the Chinese, and the representatives of which make a point of painting every object in exact accordance with Nature. This I conceive to be the so-called 'realistic' art. Now I make no question but that this principle is in itself excellent; but at the same time there is bound to be a certain difference between real objects and their pictorial presentation." He then enters more minutely into the difference between the Chinese and the Japanese points of view, and proceeds to set forth how the Chinese are realistic and ugly, how their landscapes are ill designed, sketchy where minute
elaboration is called for, but overloaded with detail where a broad treatment would have been better—further, how their birds and insects do not look as though they flew or crawled, how their leaves and trees are not outlined—at least, since there exists no such dividing line between the object and its background in the real world he presumes that they will endeavour to imitate Nature by leaving out these lines. In conclusion he declares himself a strong supporter of Japanese conventionalism.
This is not the place to go into the exact nature of Japanese taste, for this only shows itself in its sharpest definition during the classic period of Japanese painting, which preceded the eighteenth century, the era of wood-engraving. It is the art of the nineteenth century alone which has influenced the most recent developments of European art and modified European taste, although for the Japanese it represents no more than a last phase, a second and less vigorous flowering, however new and subtle its manifestations. It will therefore be sufficient to confine our attention to its formal qualities—the decorative character of its design and its impressionistic point of view.
In these qualities lay predisposed the elements which Europe, during centuries of development along realistic lines, had almost entirely lost sight of. Only a return to the fresh and ever vivid hues of Nature could rescue us from the drab monotony of factitious monochrome; only a resumption of consciously decorative aims in design could rescue us from a method of figure-drawing whose results had as little distinction or individuality as a photographer's pose. Pioneers like Manet, Degas, Bocklin, and their followers were active in both directions. So long, however, as European art was still in the stage of preparation and apprenticeship, the Japanese wood-engravings could render but very limited services, nay, might even mislead into an entirely wrong track. To-day, on the other hand, as the goal of artistic endeavour grows gradually clearer, the time is at hand when they too may point the right way towards it, and are no longer in danger of being admired solely for their strange and exquisite subtlety—a subtlety eloquent of that wide-spreading deep-seated canker which afflicted eighteenth-century Japan just as it could have been observed to afflict contemporary Europe.
The differentia of Japanese art is just this, that into perfectly conventional forms is infused a content constantly fresh-drawn from Nature. The development of the European poster, which would be quite unthinkable without Japanese influence, is only the first step towards a renewal of European painting in all its branches, and especially of monumental painting. The solution after which we are reaching has been forming there for centuries. And, whatever the difference of circumstances, requirements, and race, the fact remains that Japanese art is far closer to us than the art of our own past, with which, however much we may admire its productions, we are completely out of touch. The transition to genuine Greek art, which after all is bound to remain our ideal, is easier by far to accomplish from Japanese art than from the romantic art which still endeavours to maintain its hegemony over us to-day.
2. Technique.—In considering the importance of the part which wood-engraving plays in the life of Japan, we must distinguish sharply between the productions of the decline, which began about 1840, and those of the preceding 150 years. The later productions, like our sheets of coloured illustrations, cater for the amusement of the masses: those of earlier periods, on the other hand, occupy a position midway between painted pictures and popular illustrations, much like the woodcuts and copper-plates of the European Renaissance. Here, as in Europe, the designs for the wood-engravings were supplied by professional painters, who either actually continued, or at any rate were fully competent, to follow concurrently their regular
avocation. But little trouble was commonly taken with the woodcuts intended for illustrative purposes, and the work was mostly ordinary black-and-white. But to colour-prints, whether published in book form or as single sheets, the artists devoted their utmost skill. Had not a considerable value attached to these productions even at their first appearance, comparatively large numbers of good copies would not have survived to the present day.
These woodcuts in fact were, just as in Europe, developed from the art of book-illustration and were not intended as a substitute for painted pictures; and to make this quite clear, it is necessary to indicate briefly the generically different shape in which Japanese woodcuts and Japanese pictures appear. Whereas the cuts of the good periods are as a rule approximately in large or small quarto, the pictures follow the Chinese model and are designed either (a) as kakemonos, long bands suspended vertically, or (b) as makimonos, rolls unwrapped horizontally. In the case of the kakemono, the true picture of the Far East, the painting itself is usually mounted on a frame of rich brocade. One, generally, or at most three, of these pictures are hung on the wall, invariably in the tokonoma or recess, where the censer, the flower-vase, and the candlestick are also to be found as a rule. The picture is changed from time to time, and on the occasion of a friend's visit or the reception of a distinguished stranger the most valuable and venerable piece in the collection is selected for exhibition. On the other hand, the long horizontal rolls called makimonos, which often measure fifteen yards or more, are usually spread out on the floor to be looked at. Originally they constituted the manuscript books of the Japanese and Chinese; then illustrations were added to the text, gradually encroached on it more and more, and finally ousted the letterpress altogether. The makimono was the favourite form of picture during the most brilliant period of the national art of Japan, when the ancient chivalry shone in full radiance and the Imperial court was at the height of its magnificence. All these paintings were executed in water-colours and were kept rolled up in a separate building (which was also the library), near the dwelling-house. Painting was also employed for the decoration of screens, fans, albums, and so forth.
As to the Japanese book, it may be remarked that the extreme unpretentiousness of its exterior contrasts with that of the European book; it generally appears in the shape of a thin tract with a plain limp cover, either as an octavo approaching quarto size or else as a folio of medium dimensions. The sheets, which are ready cut to the size of the book, are folded only once, printed only on one side, and then sewn together with the fold outwards. The first page of the Japanese book is the last according to our method; the writing runs down the page in vertical lines, beginning in the right-hand top corner, and continuing towards the left margin. The pictures when in oblong form are continued across the pages of the book as it lies open; and although each half is enclosed in a border line, the careful adjustment of the sewing to the inner margin ensures continuity. Brinckmann points out that the Japanese, unlike many modern European printers, were never in the bad habit of inserting oblong pictures vertically in their books.
The methods of producing the woodcuts are very similar to those formerly in vogue in Europe, the drawing in both cases remaining in high relief as the remainder of the block is cut away. Nowadays wood-engraving is usually treated like copper-engraving, and the lines of the drawing are incised. One essential difference, however, is this, that the Japanese never draw directly on the block itself, as was generally the case in Europe, but always make use of a sheet of thin or transparent paper, which is then pasted face downwards on the block and furnishes the model for the wood-cutter to follow.
It has been much disputed whether the great European masters of wood-engraving, such as Dürer, Holbein, or Cranach, actually cut their own compositions; but there is now a general agreement that they did not do so as a general rule. It is true that a few later artists, e.g. Livens in the Netherlands, and Gubitz, who revived wood-engraving in Germany, practised the art of wood-cutting themselves—were in fact, to use the technical term, "peintres-graveurs"; but they were exceptions. In Japan not a single artist is known to have done his own cutting. They confined themselves to supervising and directing the wood-cutters, who in their turn carried out their employers' intentions so skilfully, readily, and intelligently that the technical part of the process could be entrusted to their hands with perfect security.
Something more must be said about the drawing, in view of its importance for the quality of the finished product. The artist conveys it to the paper, not by means of a pen or pencil as in Europe, but by means of a brush, either in outlines of the utmost delicacy and precision, to be filled in with colour where needed, or else in broad masses which receive no further contour, but on the contrary are the embodiment of the greatest imaginable freedom of artistic touch. It is not necessary that the whole picture should be executed in either style throughout; the central portions may be precisely outlined, while other parts are broadly sketched in; indeed, this is more or less the general rule in the case of foliage, landscape background, and patterns on dresses. The style of precise contours is the traditional style, which was in vogue from the first beginnings of Japanese painting; the broader and sketchier manner is peculiar to the popular methods of representation which have developed since the sixteenth century. Although the Chinese method of Indian ink washing and shading has been taken up by many Japanese, even by whole schools in former centuries, it has very naturally received no recognition in wood-engraving, to which it is not applicable. Since the third dimension is never represented in Japanese pictures, no opportunity offered in xylographic drawings for rendering it with the brush, which is peculiarly well adapted to such work. Nor again is the Japanese artist under any temptation to represent relief by parallel or cross hatching—a process which, as Brinckmann rightly points out, is no less completely conventional than any other; only the reason lies not, as he supposes, in the use of the brush instead of a harder medium, for the Japanese with his brush can produce far finer and more uniform lines than the European draughtsman with his implements, as the absolute purity of Japanese outline conclusively proves. Rather is it the case that the Japanese has no occasion to employ strokes in this way. His attention being always concentrated on the decorative value of this design as a whole, what he principally aims at is, besides expressive contour, a suitable distribution and co-ordination of his colour-surfaces, more especially the proportion of dark, often unbroken black masses to lighter masses. Hatching, adds Brinckmann, is only found where the nature of the object to be rendered requires it, as in the case of a horse's mane, a tiger's skin, a peacock's tail, or the bark of a tree-trunk. To indicate modelling within the contour of an object treated as simply black, it is usual to leave white lines within the black mass.
When the drawing is thus completed on the paper, which is thin and of very hard surface, and if necessary may be rendered more transparent by a damp rub over or slight moistening with oil, it is pasted, as has been said, on the block.
The block generally consists of a species of very hard
cherrywood or else box, and is always cut lengthwise, in the direction of the grain, and not across it, as in Europe. The cutting itself is done in this manner: first of all the two edges of the contour lines are cut along with a knife, and then the superfluous wood is removed with gouges of various shapes—formerly a knife was used for this too—so that nothing remains but the outlines of the drawing in relief. Finally, the fragments of paper still adhering to the wood are cleaned off and the plate is ready for printing. The impression itself is always taken off either with the hand, or else, as formerly in Europe, with a rubber. This is the secret of its clearness and beauty, as well as of the amazing fidelity with which it follows the artist's individual intentions. Special care is devoted to the selection of the paper, according to the quantity of colour which it is intended to absorb, and it is slightly damped before printing. In the case of some particularly fine old prints it is thick and of loose fibre, so that the design is deeply impressed on it; it has an ivory tone and a smooth surface. The colouring matter—always water-colour, not oil-colour—is mixed with a little rice-paste and carefully applied to the block with a brush; the paper is then laid upon the block and the back of it rubbed with the hand or the rubber. The most varied effects may be attained by varying the intensity of the colour, the proportion of water added to it, and the pressure applied to the print.
In the case of colour-prints, the artist takes off as many copies of the outline-block as he intends to use colour-blocks, and then further outlines all the parts which are to be printed in the same colour on one of these copies in turn; these are then again cut on as many blocks as there are colours, one being generally put on each side of the same piece of wood, and occasionally several side by side. The extraordinary development of this branch of the art is doubtless due to the fact that the cost of cutting rendered it essential to get the maximum of effect from a minimum number of blocks. This was more especially the case immediately after Harunobu in 1765 invented the colour-print proper with its unlimited number of blocks; and every artist was continually casting about for fresh expedients to reduce the number of his blocks, either by the partial superposition of different-coloured blocks in printing, or by special combinations of colours designed to modify the surrounding colours, and so forth. It is by no means always the case that a sheet is printed from just as many blocks as it has colours; for the printer has it in his power—indeed, this is the capital function of his art—to weaken his colours on any part of the block by rubbing off the pigment or to intensify them by adding more to it, so as to graduate his tones, or else to fuse one colour gradually into another and cover, whether simultaneously or successively, different parts of the block with quite different colours. The artists of the best period found five or seven colours sufficient for their needs; but in the case of the surimonos (see below), which were intended to be unusually sumptuous, especially at the beginning of the nineteenth century, the number often rises to twenty or even thirty.
Correct register of the various colour-blocks is secured by cutting an angle in the lower right-hand corner of the outline-block, and in the left-hand corner in the same straight line a slot. These two marks are cut in exactly the same place on all the other blocks, and in printing the sheets are imposed in such a way that their lower and right-hand edges fit exactly against these marks. By this simple device perfect adjustment of register is almost invariably secured.
Those of us who are only acquainted with modern prints, with their predominance of aniline red and blue, can form no conception of the colours of the fine old prints. Chief among the reds are a bluish red made from vegetable juice, called beni, a brick-red oxide of lead, called tan, which has a slight tendency to become black, and the Chinese cochineal red. The yellow is generally a light ochre; red ochre was introduced later. The blue is either carbonate of copper or indigo; the green was originally light, dark green came in later. Intermediate colours such as grey, cold brown, and olive green were added in the course of time. Black has played an important part from the earliest period down to modern times; at first somewhat greyish, it afterwards gained full intensity and lustre, and was much employed in broad masses. Flesh tints are indicated almost imperceptibly, if at all; but in some prints de luxe, especially at the end of the eighteenth century, they are brought out by sprinkling the white ground that relieves them with finely powdered mother-of-pearl, called mica, which produces a soft sheen.
There is also a special class of colour-print in which the second block is employed merely to produce a grey intermediate tint, a third block being often added for flesh tints. These two-block and three-block prints, which are very delicate in effect, are used chiefly in facsimile reproductions of drawings, e.g. of Hokusai. Wash sketches in broad brushwork and few colours, like those of Korin, Masayoshi, &c., are reproduced in the same way, sometimes with blue and red from a second and third block.
The effect of colour-prints may also be heightened by dry or blind impressions, which are cut on yet another block and render the patterns of dresses or stuffs, the details of distant landscapes, wave lines on water, occasionally the folds of light-coloured robes. They are seldom absent on carefully executed prints; Shigenaga is said to have been the first to employ them, about 1730.
Colour-prints go by the name of nishikiye, i.e. brocade pictures; the general name for single-sheet prints is ichimaiye. Three further special kinds must be mentioned here. The first is the triptychs, consisting of a single design covering three folio leaves; pentaptychs are not unknown. The second is the long narrow strips which Fenollosa calls kakemonos. The best masters have been tempted to try their hand at this species, which at first sight would seem to give scope but for a single figure, and even that in none but quiet poses. Yet it has been employed with the happiest results for designs with two, three, or even more figures, side by side or one above the other, at rest or in active movement. Thirdly, there are the square surimonos, which art-lovers sent to each other as New Year's greetings, and which also served to convey congratulations or announcements on other occasions; their get-up was most luxurious, gold, silver, and various kinds of bronze toning, a profusion of colours and blind impression were lavished upon them. Harunobu is said to have been the first to bring them into fashion, his prints dated 1765 being doubtless referred to; Hokusai and his pupil Hokkei produced a number of the very finest. A celebrated example of them is the series of seven designs by Shuntei, representing the seven Gods of Good Fortune in the shape of well-favoured and gorgeously robed ladies; these same seven gods entering harbour on their ship in the night between the second and third days of the New Year, is another favourite subject. Brinckmann has pointed out that two years, 1804 and 1823, are conspicuous for their large output of finely printed surimonos. The former was the first year of a cycle of sixty years, according to a system of computation borrowed from China, the seventy-fourth cycle, to
Koepping Collection, Berlin
Koriušai: A Lady cutting the Hair from the Nape of her Younger Sister's Neck. On the screen a harvest scene, which a prince watches from his palace window. To the right a mirror on a stand; behind, a branch of blossom. The first of a series of five plates. In grey and brown.
be precise, and a year of the Rat, in terms of the short notation. The latter was the twentieth of the same cycle and a year of the Goat. "The year 1804, a time of general festivity and the development of Japanese social life in all its brilliance, witnessed the production of many surimonos, among them the most characteristic and elaborate of Hokusai. In 1823 competitions took place for the finest designs in New Year cards; art clubs and other societies, among them more especially the ‘Society of Flower Hats,’ vied with one another in the invention of original and elegant surimonos, and gave commissions to the artists."
3. The Opening Up of Japan.—Since the coup d'état of 1868 Japan is open to Europeans. Indeed, so great was the zeal of the Japanese to turn the achievements of European civilisation to their own profit, that at first they took over in indiscriminate haste good and bad alike, science and industries as well as the ugly and the "cheap and nasty," and were misled into despising their own best possessions—their national costume and their national art. It is true that they began remarkably soon to realise their folly in this respect; still, the interval was long enough to enable European and American dealers and collectors to get into their hands a considerable proportion of the national art-products, and among them particularly colour-prints. Our knowledge of this branch of art is based upon collections so formed. Since the Museum of Japanese Art was founded in Tokio, the ancient Yedo, in the seventies of last century, and retrospective exhibitions held there have once more opened the eyes of the Japanese to the merits of their indigenous art, prices have risen so enormously that scarcely anything of special value is likely henceforward to leave Japan.
From the time that a Portuguese mariner in 1542 first touched its shore, Dai Nippon, the "Empire of the Rising Sun," with its 3800 islands, which Columbus had set out to seek and found America in its stead, has always been the object of European longing, cupidity, and admiration. To this day the traveller returning from Japan is full of enthusiasm for the beauty of the landscape, the mildness of the climate—in the temperate tracts round Yedo there is scarcely a month of snow and ice—the skill and industry of the men, the charm and modesty of the women. To be sure, the first European settlers contrived to make themselves thoroughly detested. The Jesuits, who landed there in the sixteenth century, formed business connections, imported guns and tobacco, and made numerous proselytes. When their behaviour became too imperious, the natives rose against them; in 1638, 40,000 Christians of Japan are said to have suffered martyrdom. 1597 was the date of the first Dutch East India voyage, 1602 that of the foundation of the Dutch India Company. Relations between the Europeans and Japan were principally maintained from the island of Deshima; but soon after, feeling against the foreigners in the country began to run high. From 1641 onwards Japan remained accessible only to the Dutch and to the Chinese, and that only through the port of Nagasaki; from this port were shipped a special class of goods, notably porcelain, which was manufactured, specially for export, in immense quantities according to recognised patterns, particularly in the western province of Hizen, where Nagasaki is situated. 45,000 pieces of such porcelain were thus brought to Europe in 1664 on board of eleven Dutch vessels; and a large trade was similarly done in lacquered furniture during the seventeenth century. No European, however, was allowed to enter the country.
The middle of the nineteenth century witnessed radical changes in this respect. In 1853 a commercial treaty was
Koechlin Collection, Paris
Shigémasa: A Circus Scene in the Open Air. A parody of the aristocratic races at Kamó ⟨⟩ hence the court costumes and bearskin sword-sheaths. Dresses violet and pale pink. Diptych.
concluded with the United States of America, and was followed by similar treaties with England, France, and Russia. In 1860 the first Japanese embassy embarked for Europe. In 1890 a constitution was granted to the nation.
Japanese woodcuts first attained more general recognition at the Great Exhibition of 1862 in London; the first colour-prints reached Paris by way of Havre in the same year. Artists like Stevens, Whistler, Diaz, Fortuny, Legros, who were then living in Paris, gave them their immediate attention; they were followed by Manet, Tissot, Fantin Latour, Degas, Carolus Duran, Monet, and people began collecting the prints. The etchers Bracquemond and Jacquemart, and Solon of the Sèvres porcelain works, became the most ardent champions of this latest discovery in art. Travellers like Cernuschi, Duret, Guimet, Régamey, returned from Japan and began to sing the praises of the country and the country's art. Writers like Goncourt, Champfleury, Burty, Zola; publishers like Charpentier; craftsmen like Barbedienne, Christofle, Falize, joined in the movement. Villot, the former keeper of the Louvre pictures, was one of the first to found a collection of Japanese woodcuts. The ground having been so thoroughly prepared, the Paris Exposition of 1867 became in due course the scene of a decisive triumph for the art of Japan. Soon afterwards the Parisian friends of Japan formed themselves into a Société du Jinglar, which met once a month at a dinner in Sèvres.
Since the revolution of 1868, by which the Mikado's residence was transferred from the old inland capital Kioto to Tokio, till then known as Yedo, on the south coast, formerly the seat of the Shoguns (the ruling military commanders), and the feudal lords were gradually abolished, Japan, and consequently Japanese art, has been entirely open to Europeans. The recognition of Japanese art was still further advanced by the Universal Exhibitions of 1873 at Vienna and of 1878 at Paris, which latter had been organised by Wakai, a man with a thorough knowledge of his country's art.
It was not until the middle of the seventies that a museum was founded in Japan itself, at Tokio, for collecting the productions of the ancient art. The first director was Yamataka. When a second museum was founded in the middle of the eighties at Nara, Yamataka exchanged his position for the directorship of Nara, the Tokio Museum being allotted to the former Director-General of Art and Science, who subsequently became Viscount Kuki. And when the year 1895 saw the foundation of a museum in the old imperial city of Kioto, near Nara, Yamataka took over the superintendence of both together.
The most important collections formed in Europe are as follows: Siebold brought home in 1830 his collection of some 800 paintings (kakemonos), which is now preserved at Leyden. Sir Rutherford Alcock exhibited his collection of wood-engravings at the London Exhibition of 1862, and John Leighton delivered an address upon it in the Royal Institution on May 1, 1863; it seems, however, to have consisted principally of works of the nineteenth century. In 1882 Professor Gierke, of Breslau, exhibited his collection of paintings, some 200 pieces, in the Kunstgewerbemuseum at Berlin; this collection was acquired for the Prussian State, which already possessed, in the Berlin Print-Room, a small collection of illustrated works formed by an earlier owner. Professor Gierke was prevented by his death, which took place in the eighties, from taking in hand the history of Japanese painting which he had planned. In the same year (1882) the British Museum acquired, for £3000, a collection
of about 2000 Japanese and Chinese paintings and prints from Dr. William Anderson, who had been Professor of the Medical Academy in Tokio. In Paris, where many private collections of Japanese woodcuts came into being—those of Gonse, Bing, Vever, Gillot, Manzy, Rouart, Galimart, and latterly of Koechlin and Count Camondo, deserve special mention—a retrospective exhibition of Japanese art was organised as early as 1883, and was followed by a special exhibition of Japanese wood-engravings in 1890. At the beginning of 1893 a select exhibition of Hiroshige's landscapes took place in Durand Ruel's rooms. The Oriental department of the Louvre possesses a small collection of wood-engravings, and so do the Musee Guimet and the Bibliothèque Nationale (the Duret Collection of illustrated books). A society of Japanophiles (Japonisants), consisting of about fifteen members, holds monthly meetings in Paris. In February 1909 the first exhibition of Japanese wood-engravings in private possession was held in the Musee des Arts Decoratifs, and was to be followed by a series of others. In 1888 the Burlington Fine Arts Club organised an exhibition of Japanese wood-engravings; a Japan Society was founded; among English private collections that of Edgar Wilson is specially highly praised. The largest collection, however, is in the possession of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, viz. some 400 screens, 4000 paintings and 10,000 prints, which were brought together by Professor Ernest Francisco Fenollosa, who stayed twelve years in Japan as Imperial Japanese Fine Arts Commissioner, and many years of whose life were spent in describing and classifying these treasures. He also possessed a noteworthy collection of his own. Among other American collections, those of Charles J. Morse and Fred. W. Gookin in Chicago and of George W. Vanderbilt in New York may be mentioned. Mr. Francis Lathrop, of New York, possesses about 170 Kiyonagas. Dr. Bigelow had exhibited a rich collection of Hokusais in Boston. In Germany there are the collections of Koepping and Liebermann in Berlin, Stadler in Munich, Frau Straus-Negbaur in Frankfort-on-the-Main, Jaekel in Greifswald, Moslé in Leipzig, Oeder in Düsseldorf, Grosse in Freiburg (Breisgau), and others. The Berlin Print-Room has already been mentioned; the library of the Berlin Kunstgewerbemuseum has since then tended more and more to become the central repository of State collections; the Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe at Hamburg possesses a number of prints, &c.; and in the Print-Room at Dresden the foundations of a collection have been laid.
Hand in hand with this increased interest in and comprehension of Japanese wood-engraving has gone the development of the literature on this subject (see the bibliography at the end). The first detailed and trustworthy information about the history of Japanese painting, as well as some notes on the history of the wood-engraving, was supplied by Anderson in his pioneer work, A History of Japanese Art, published in the Transactions of the Asiatic Society of Japan, vol. vii. (1879); his work de luxe, The Pictorial Arts of Japan, in two volumes (1886), and the Catalogue of his Japanese and Chinese paintings acquired by the British Museum, which appeared at the same time, further elaborate the same material, while his Japanese Wood-Engraving, published in the May number of the Portfolio of 1895, condense it into a short, popular outline of the history of Japanese wood-engraving. Professor Gierke followed Anderson in 1882 with the Catalogue of the exhibition of his collection in the Berlin Kunstgewerbemuseum, which contained a short but comprehensive and exhaustive and quite independent survey of the history of Japanese painting; and in the following year came Gonse's L'Art Japonais, a monumental work in two volumes, the first comprising painting and wood-engraving, in which a first and not unsuccessful attempt was made to comprehend
Japanese art from the artistic point of view. Gonse's work was criticised by Fenollosa in his Review of the Chapter on Painting in Gonse's "L'Art Japonais" (published first at Yokohama, then at Boston in 1885), and his energetic repudiation of Gonse's (the current) gross over-estimate of Hokusai's importance in Japanese art was doubtless very well justified; at the same time Fenollosa was bound to admit that Gonse had succeeded admirably in making clear to his readers the genius of Korin, an artist whose qualities are by no means obvious to Western appreciation. Incidentally Fenollosa's far wider and deeper knowledge of both the pictures and the authorities enabled him to contribute a most stimulating survey of the chief points of view from which the development of Japanese painting is to be judged. In 1885 appeared a little book, entitled Japansk Malerkunst, by the Danish artist Madsen (pronounced Massen). The language in which it is written has unfortunately prevented it from attaining anything approaching the publicity which it deserves for its thoroughness, its esprit, its genuinely artistic feeling, and its fascinating style. Even now a translation of it would constitute the best possible introductionto the genius of Japanese art.
In 1889 a new generation appeared on the scene, which began to extend the province thus lately thrown open by painstaking researches on single points. Brinckmann in Hamburg published the first volume of his work on the Arts and Crafts of Japan, in which he offered a complete survey of the history of Japanese painting and wood-engraving, but still evinced a tendency to take his stand beside Gonse rather than Fenollosa, particularly in his over-estimate of Hokusai. Bing in Paris laboured zealously to familiarise the widest circles with Japanese art through his Japon Artistique, a splendidly got-up production, which appeared in three languages, French, German, and English, and by its excellent illustrations made possible a profound insight into the Japanese point of view. The series of reproductions entitled Kokkwa, which has been publishing at Tokio since 1890, attains a much smaller circulation, in spite of being far more magnificent still. The catalogues of the Paris Loan-Exhibition in the École des Beaux-Arts, 1890 (with an introduction by Bing), and of the Burty Collection, 1891 (with an introduction by Leroux), competently initiated the collectors of Paris into the province of the wood-engravings, hitherto unknown to all but a few. In 1891 Goncourt published his book on Utamaro, the first monograph devoted to a Japanese artist, and followed it up in 1896 by his book on Hokusai, which provoked a good deal of recrimination, as it was based on materials which a Japanese had originally collected on commission for Bing, but fraudulently disposed of a second time, whereby Bing was anticipated by Goncourt and prevented from carrying out his plan of publishing a monograph on Hokusai. Muther's widely read Geschichte der Malerei im XIX. Jahrhundert contributed its share to popularising the Japanese wood-engraving in Germany, but, owing to the shortness of the chapter in question and the smallness of the reproductions, could convey no more than a very general notion of the subject. A better result was achieved by Anderson's popular work on Japanese Wood-Engraving (Portfolio, 1895), with its very serviceable illustrations.
Finally, the beginning of the year 1896 saw the knowledge of Japanese wood-engraving enter on a fresh and presumably final phase by the publication of Fenollosa's exhaustive Catalogue of the "Masters of Ukiyoye" Exhibition in New York, a work which combines full mastery of the materials with artistic freedom, vigour of style, and the minutest penetration into every detail. This catalogue, which expressly excludes all historical information, comprises a description of some 400 selected wood-engravings, arranged in their presumable
Vever Collection, Paris
Kiyónaga: A Street Scene at Night. On the left a young man is conducted from the tea-house to the oira-house. On the right a singer and an attendant carrying her s̆hamiz̆en. Part of a triptych, the right side of which is missing.
chronological order, together with some fifty paintings by the same artists, which are inserted in this scheme of development; it determines in effect—what no one had hitherto succeeded in doing—the time-limits within which each artist worked, the changes which the style of each underwent, and lastly, based on these special investigations, the main periods in the development of Japanese wood-engraving as a whole from about 1675 to 1850. All this is set down with such convincing lucidity that for the future nothing more than corrections of minor detail need be looked for; the history of Japanese wood-engraving in all its ramifications stands so compactly built up that we might think ourselves fortunate if we had an equally good foundation for even a single period of European art-history—in which connection it must be remembered that Fenollosa deals not with a small group of artists, but with hundreds, even ignoring as he does the multitude of quite insignificant wood-engravers who flourished in the nineteenth century. All this mass is here, as all competent art-history requires, already so sifted and arranged that only the comparatively small band of choice and leading spirits stand out above the rank and file. The confidence with which Fenollosa dates each sheet in his catalogue within the limits of a single year may seem surprising; but we must take into consideration—as he himself remarks and is bound to remark as an experienced investigator—that the date in each case is only approximate, since there is no such thing as absolute certainty in things artistic, however fully a man may be convinced that his opinion is correct. Moreover, these exact dates have not been arrived at, as might at first appear to be the case, simply by comparing the styles of the various sheets; Fenollosa must surely have taken the traditional dates of the various artists into consideration—no small assistance, as it happens, since fortunately most Japanese woodcuts are signed with the artist's name, while the certainly dated sheets are too few in number—in the eighteenth century, the best period, e.g., some of the years 1743 (Shigenaga), 1765 (Harunobu), 1783 (Kiyonaga), 1795 (Utamaro)—to give us a precise chronology by their help alone. It is true that the styles of coiffure, to which Fenollosa rightly attaches great weight, constitute a very material aid to the exact dating of individual prints; but how, we may ask, can he know what the fashion of any particular year may have been, for purely stylistic considerations cannot, as has been shown, have given him the required information? We know of no such thing in Japan as a fashion paper, no chronicle of the yearly changes of taste such as we have in Europe. There does, however, exist one source of information, a source from which Fenollosa, as he himself states, has drawn lavishly, by which all mutations of dress and especially of coiffure can be followed up as accurately as need be. This source is the illustrated books, which are in the majority of cases dated. They are the basis of Fenollosa's powers and the key to the astonishing results of his researches. If he had included these illustrated books, as he did the paintings, in the New York Exhibition and his catalogue, their relation to his whole work would have immediately appeared, and his results would have become still more instructive and convincing, since they enable us to trace the changes not merely of fashions but of style in the individual artists, who as we know were frequently the same as those who produced the single sheets.
Fenollosa, unhappily, succumbed to heart-disease in London on the 21st September 1908, without having had time to write the exhaustive history of Japanese painting and wood-engraving which he projected. Besides the works already mentioned he edited the small but important Catalogue of the exhibition at Tokio (1898) and published the splendidly got-up work, The Masters of Ukiyoye.
In 1897 there at last appeared a compendious History of Japanese Wood-Engraving, by Edward F. Strange, of the staff of the South Kensington Museum. Although not altogether devoid of a sense of artistic values, it yet devotes far too much time to all sorts of unessentials, such as the life-history, the surnames and the residences of the artists, while in most cases dismissing their artistic activity with a few general phrases. Its greatest shortcoming, however, is that it gives a totally false impression of the development of Japanese wood-engraving, that it discusses the art of the nineteenth century, of which alone the author appears to have had an adequate and firsthand knowledge, in altogether disproportionate detail, to the neglect of the eighteenth century, which is historically the most important, while in the nineteenth century there are, except Hokusai and Hiroshige, very few names that count. The author has herein shown that he has not approached his task with the necessary seriousness and love of his subject, so that there is a suggestion of commercialism about the whole book which is likely to do the study of Japanese art more harm than good. Strange had, however, not yet been able to make use of Fenollosa's fundamental catalogue of 1896. He further published a book, Japanese Colour-Prints, in 1904.
In the same year (1897) the first edition of the present work was published. In 1900 Duret published a list of illustrated books which had been acquired for the Print-Room of the Bibliothèque Nationale. Several sale catalogues which have appeared since 1902 have advanced our knowledge of the subject. Since 1904 Perzinski has published several short but discriminating essays on Japanese wood-engravings. In 1907 Kurth published a comprehensive work on Utamaro.
Japanese notices about artists of the older period are contained in the following works mentioned by Anderson (Catalogue, p. vii.):—
- Honcho-gwashi, 6 vols. 1693.
- Mampo-zensho, 14 vols. 1694.
- Gwako-, 6 vols. 1740. With a genealogical table of the artists of the Kano school and reproductions of famous pictures.
- Kun in hosho. 1810.
- Kocho meigwashiu, 5 vols. 1818.
- Shogwa shuran. 1836.
- Gwajo yoriaku, 2 vols. 1850.
- Shogwa zensho, 10 vols. About 1862.
- . -riaku-nempio1882.
- Shogwa Kaisui, 3 vols. 1883.
One chief source of information is the Ukiyoye ruiko, which exists in the British Museum (in a MS. of 1844) and elsewhere, and which is said to have been afterwards printed as well. The original draft is said to date from the year 1800, and to have been gradually supplemented, among others by the painter Keisai Yeisen, in 1830. The Musée Guimet in Paris intended to publish, in 1893, a French translation by Kawamura (see Deshayes, Considérations), but so far nothing seems to have come of it. It appears from Kurth's Utamaro that three Japanese sources, which have been made use of for Barboutau's Catalogue, are of special importance, viz.: (a) , by Kano Hisanobu, cho gwa ka jin mei ji sho1894, 2 vols.; (b) Nihon bijutsu gwaka jin meisho den, by Bunzan, 1892, 2 vols.; (c) : Tokio, ukiyoye ruiko1889 (new edition, 1901).
- See Madsen, p. 12 ff.; Brinckmann, i. 174-81.
- See Anderson, Pictorial Arts.
- Transactions, xii. 226 ff.
- Cf. Madsen, p. 7 ff.
- Brinckmann, i. 222-25.
- For drawing and writing the brush is held almost upright between the fore and second fingers: the whole arm moves, not the wrist. Since Indian ink cannot be erased, the artist is compelled to work with the utmost care and precision.
- Tokuno, Japanese Wood-Cutting, 1894; Anderson, Japanese Wood-Engraving, p. 62 ff. (both with illustrations of the implements). See also Régamey, Le Japon pratique (1891).
- Tokuno, p. 226 ff.; Anderson, Japanese Wood-Engraving, p. 67 ff.
- Brinckmann, p. 229.
- Brinckmann, p. 291 ff.
- Madsen, pp. 1-6.
- O. Münsterberg, Japans auswärtiger Handel von 1542-1854 (Stuttgart, 1896), ch. v.
- E. Chesneau, "Le Japon à Paris" (Gazette des Beaux Arts, 2me pér., tom, xviii. (1878), pp. 385, 841 ff.).
- Cf. Madsen, pp. 9–11. Ph. Fr. von Siebold was surgeon to the Dutch Indian army in Japan from 1823–30.
- Anderson had had the assistance of Satow, the Japanese secretary of the English embassy at Yedo, in the formation of his collection.