A History of Japanese Colour-Prints/THE DEVELOPMENT OF COLOUR-PRINTING (1743-1765)
THE DEVELOPMENT OF COLOUR-PRINTING (1743–1765)
1. The Two-colour Print.—Our mental picture of the development of Japanese wood-engraving has taken on quite another aspect now that we do not, as until recently, date back the beginning of colour-printing, first with two, then with three, and then with several colour blocks, to 1710, but place it, on Fenollosa's authority, in the beginning of the forties of the eighteenth century. It follows from this modification that during the whole interval between these two dates black and white still predominated exclusively, though with growing importance and perfection of hand colouring. When then, about the year 1743, colour-printing with two blocks, rose and green, was introduced—an invention that we perhaps owe to Shigenaga—it was at once generally adopted among the leading artists, so that it may be regarded as a distinguishing mark of the fifth and sixth decades. The colouring of black and white prints did not cease at once, but gradually retired to the background. Towards the end of the fifties a third block was added, perhaps yellow in the beginning, changing later to blue; then followed in quick succession several attempts to heighten the colour effect by modifying and combining the colours, and it was not long until, about the year 1765, the number of blocks was increased, and thereby the foundation laid for wood-engravings unrestricted as to colour effect. The period of transition from the primitive two-colour to the completely developed polychrome prints, which for us represent Japanese wood-engraving par excellence, was very short. It embraced not much more than the first half of the sixties.
The colour print, like Japanese art in general, was probably brought over originally from China. True, a statement is reported by Satow, in the Transactions of 1881, on the authority of an author named Sakakibara, that coloured prints of a likeness of the celebrated actor Ichikawa Danjuro, the founder of an actor-clan that still flourishes, were sold in the streets of Yedo in the year 1695. But this should doubtless be interpreted as referring to woodcuts coloured by hand. Prints in another colour than black seem to have been produced very early, although only quite exceptionally; at least, Strange cites (page 3) a book that appeared in the year 1667, containing patterns for kimonos (outer robes) which are engraved in pairs on one block, and printed alternately in black, olive-green, red, and a fourth colour (reprod. ibid.). Even granting, however, that we are not here dealing with a new edition of a much later date, there would still be no connection with the printing from several blocks successively adjusted, in which process lies the essence of the colour-print. It may be considered, indeed, that the deepening and softening of the tint on different parts of the Koepping Collection, Berlin
same block (as was done, for example, in landscapes in Gwako senran (1740), where the distance is lighter and the foreground darker in tone), was a first step toward colour-printing. But it does not seem to be proved that the application of different colours to the same block, which was often done in the nineteenth century, was known in the early period. As we have not been able to prove the existence of an earlier colour-print than that dated 1743, of which we shall speak immediately, and as the internal evidence of other two-colour prints does not point to an appreciably earlier origin, it follows that Anderson's statements, according to which a certain Izumiya Gonshiro, towards the end of the seventeenth century, was the first to use a coloured block, besides the black, in order to colour certain parts of his drawing with carmine red (beni), must be referred to hand colour; at any rate, prints of this kind have not come to light. The first book illustrated with coloured wood prints is said to have appeared as late as 1748.
The sheet dated 1743, representing a young man in the rain, is by Shigenaga. Whether it is the first colour-print ever produced in Japan, we do not know; nor has the name of the inventor of this new process been handed down to us. But from the circumstance that it is dated at all, forming thus one of the few exceptions among Japanese single-sheet prints, we may doubtless conclude that it was the first sheet produced in this technique, and that the youthful artist gave expression by this signature to his pride in his new invention, precisely as did his pupil Harunobu twenty-two years later, when he succeeded in inventing the full polychrome print. At all events, prints in two colours are not hitherto known to have been produced appreciably earlier. Why the artist chose precisely these two tints, rose and green, for his colour blocks (to be sure a very happy choice), has not yet appeared. The colours which were employed up to that time for hand colouring afford us no explanation, as they were quite different in kind and far more various. It is also a surprising circumstance that through nearly two subsequent decades these two colours were employed virtually unchanged, even in tone and strength, by all the other artists of the period, and that it was not until a third colour-block was introduced (about 1760) that these sheets presented a greater variety of aspect.
Fenollosa (Tokio Catalogue, 1898, p. 43) says that two-colour printing was, up to the beginning of the fifties, only employed for small prints. He estimates the total number of two-colour prints at about 10,000. On page 5 of the same work he gives an admirable characterisation of the two-colour print. Professor Jaekel in Greifswald writes to me: "The first red and green prints seem to me to be those in which these two colours are only printed in the form of delicate patterns on the spaces of the dresses and the salient parts of the background. These pattern-blocks were probably technically most nearly akin to the stencil plates which had been in use from ancient times for pattern printing on cloth and continued to be used long after. The tinting of the dresses to their whole extent only came in later."
SHIGÉNAGA: Shōki, the Devil-queller. Hand-coloured black and grey, the flesh dark red. Large.
actor-painter, Kiyonobu. For there exist prints by Shigenaga with representations of wild deities which belong entirely to the forceful style of the Torii school. Although, like Masanobu, he took especial delight in the delineation of graceful women, nevertheless he did not disdain to try his hand on actor-pictures as well. The versatility of his talent is further shown by a hand-coloured sheet representing a mandarin duck among iris, on the water's edge (Bing Catalogue, No. 89). It is incorrect to attribute to him, as Anderson does, colour-prints produced with four blocks, and to date this activity as far back as 1716. He began, as all artists hitherto mentioned, with black and white prints. As early as the middle of the fourth decade his style showed a great affinity with that of Masanobu, approaching, however, more closely to the personal peculiarities of the latter than to the broad style handed down from the school of Moronobu. What distinguished him was the striving for individuality, and that in a new, fresh, youthfully sensitive spirit, which he passed on to his pupils also and which gave its stamp to the woodcuts of the great flowering which now began. In this role of mediator between the old and the new art, as well as in his more personal qualities, lies Shigenaga's essential significance. It is sufficient to mention here that Harunobu was his pupil.
The year 1743, as we have seen, forms the one decisive turning-point in his life, as it brought with it the invention of the two-colour print. The beautiful specimen of this process which Anderson gives at the beginning of his Japanese Wood-Engraving, a young girl walking under a sunshade on the bank of a river (signed Senkwado Nish. Shig.), is therefore dated by him much too early (1725). But it proves clearly enough to us how Shigenaga's strength lies in the artistic rendering of a general impression, though Masanobu excels him in precision, beauty, and individuality of drawing. In any case, the invention of the two-colour print was of such revolutionising importance that all, even the older generation of masters still alive, immediately took up the production of such prints. Shigenaga himself never tired of developing this technique further, endeavouring after ever new effects by varying the grading or contrasts of the colours, by change in the patterning, by blind printing. In the beginning of the fifties his art reached its high-water mark, while Kiyomitsu at the same time continued the style of Kiyonobu. The subjects that he treated were similar to those of Masanobu, single figures of women and scenes of social life, mostly in triptych form, which, however, were no longer rigidly divided into three separate parts, but represent a continuous composition. As he also produced three-colour prints and died as early as 1756, it is clear that they must have been invented before this time and not towards the end of the fifties, as was assumed in the first edition. Fenollosa mentions one of his large sheets printed in this style, representing the interior of a hall, in which, besides the two colours, rose and green, yellow is employed by way of transition to white, in addition to the black contour-block. He thinks it very probable that Shigenaga, having invented the two-colour print, may have discovered the three-colour print as well. It is true that a print of this kind cannot be assigned to about 1759, as Fenollosa assumed, but must have been produced several years earlier. Illustrations of his works in the Hayashi Catalogue (Nos. 304, 305, 313), which also mentions books illustrated by him (Nos. 1464 seqq.), beginning with about 1735. As to his possible identity with Mangosaburo, see the end of Chapter III., § 3.
As his pupils, Toyonobu and, later on especially, Harunobu and Shigemasa are to be mentioned. It is not certain that Akiyama Sadaharu was a pupil of Shigenaga, but Fenollosa thinks it possible; he cites a black and white print by him dating from the middle of the fifth decade, and gives him the testimonial that, had he worked longer, he would very Royal Print Room, Dresden
likely have become a dangerous rival of Harunobu's.
The Hayashi Catalogue further mentions, as pupils of Shigenaga, Hirose Shigenobu (No. 324); Yamamoto Shigeharu (No. 348); Yamamoto Fujinobu (No. 349), whom Fenollosa calls a pupil of Harunobu; Tomikawa Fusanobu, who worked from 1741 to 1763 and then called himself Ginsetsu (No. 353).
We have already seen, in the preceding chapter, how Masanobu, Kiyonobu II., and Kiyomasu, immediately after the invention of the two-colour print, devoted all their powers to its development.
Like Shigenaga, he cultivated the three-colour print as early as the fifties; in fact, this technique is especially indebted to him for its further development and completion, since the first half of the sixties, at which time he took the lead of all other artists, was his most fertile period. He was the first to give blue a permanent place in the synthesis of colours, so that the treatment of this colour formed a distinctive characteristic of his work. He did not, however, use it pure in the beginning, but shading strongly into grey, and thereby achieved a beautiful gradation of tone, as is shown in an early kakemono-ye repre Vever Collection, Paris
Vever Collection, Paris
senting a mother and child. By the addition of brown he even occasionally changed his blue into an olive green, as in the large and beautifully composed sheet of the two dancing girls, in which the green and red is also modified. In part he achieved the mild and subdued, yet powerful elegance of his tones by special mixtures of colour, partly also by printing them one over the other, whereby he enriched his scale of tints. It is remarkable that in his rather heavy treatment of colour, neither black nor white plays a considerable part. He too was active in book-illustration; illustrated works by him appeared at Yedo in 1760 and 1776. In his productions actors predominate; see the sheet of about 1760 illustrated in Fenollosa (Outline, pl. vi.). In addition, however, he drew scenes of daily life, bath scenes, and in Bing's Catalogue (No. 19) there is also mentioned a print with birds. Strange reproduces, on page 24, a woman preparing tea. In the Jaekel Collection at Greifswald there is a large oblong three-colour print by him, which is composed as a triptych, but printed undivided from a single block; it represents a gentleman promenading with two ladies, with Fuji in the background. The same collection possesses a four-colour print, large oblong, in which red and green predominate; it was probably done about 1760, and represents three geishas sitting in a room and playing with cushions. About the year 1763, following the example of Harunobu, who in the meantime had been making his experiments, his blue appears perfectly pure; but the cheerfulness of this young pioneer's colour-scheme was never quite attained by the older artist. He remains the chief master of the short ascendancy of the three-colour print, the general effect of which was apt to be somewhat sombre. As no black and white prints, so also no genuine polychrome prints by him seem to be known.
According to Fenollosa (Outline), the fundamental colours of the three-colour print, which seems to have developed in the middle of the fifties, were red (beni), blue, and the newly added yellow, that is, colours resulting from the decomposition of the green hitherto used. Professor Jaekel, on the other hand, in a personal communication, is of opinion that the third colour was the result of blue being printed over red in the case of the caps of the actors, which appear to have been of a vivid violet; he is acquainted with such prints by Kiyonobu II., Kiyomitsu, and Kiyohiro. This third colour, a late introduction, was then, he thinks, at once generally made use of to enrich the colour-scheme in every direction.
The introduction of three-colour printing also brought the kakemono-ye to full perfection. The number of figures represented on them rose occasionally to eight or ten. The fact that one colour could now be printed over another made it possible to vary the colour-scheme almost infinitely.
a two-colour print by him dated as early as 1746: two children in a saké-bowl with a sail (Hayashi Catalogue, No. 290). According to the Hayashi Catalogue, on the other hand, he is said to have probably been a pupil of Shigenobu, and later to have followed Shigenaga and Harunobu. He also called himself Sanseido. The Hayashi Catalogue gives specimens of his work (Nos. 291, 289). In Bing's Catalogue (No. 33), under the date 1760, is mentioned a theatre scene by Torii Kiyotsume. According to the Hayashi Catalogue he was a pupil of Kiyonobu II.; for reproductions see the Catalogue (Nos. 249, 252). He reminds one of Harunobu. Works illustrated by him appeared in Yedo in 1777.
Other artists of the period are: Torii Kiyoharu (illustration in the Hayashi Catalogue, No. 223); Torii Kiyosato, probably a pupil of Kiyomitsu (Tokio Catalogue, No. 86; illustration in Hayashi Catalogue, No. 263 bis). The Hayashi Catalogue further mentions: illustrated books by Torii Kiyohide, 1772 and 1775, and by Torii Kiyomoto, about 1786-94.
3. The Polychrome Print.—Without doubt, we owe to the amiable and cheerful genius of Harunobu the invention of prints entirely unlimited in the number of blocks and choice of colours. As, twenty-two years earlier, Shigenaga had dated the first two-colour print, so also Harunobu placed the date 1765 on several of his delicate and richly coloured prints, square and of medium size approximating to that of the later surimonos, evidently intending thereby, in just exultation over the final success of his invention, to fix its date for all succeeding ages. Before, however, he succeeded in this great step, he had spent half a decade endeavouring to produce new effects by means of the three-colour blocks then in use, which gradually led up to his invention. Indeed, his activity extends back into the time of the two-colour print, although only into its closing years.
Suzuki Harunobu, the founder of the Japanese wood print in the style familiar to us, and thus the first of the moderns, was a pupil of that Shigenaga who invented the two-colour print and probably also the three-colour print, and who, after Masanobu's death, upheld his heritage through a decade. In this case, the inheritance of the artistic tradition, and its gradual transformation in the direction of an entirely new ideal, is clearly in evidence. For as the grace and peculiar charm of Masanobu here continue to live on in their specifically Japanese fashion, to be transmitted as an inalienable heritage from the time of the "primitives" to the whole following half-century of the great moderns, so, on the other hand, the special peculiarities of drawing and colour which constitute the characteristic style of the "primitives" come to an end with Harunobu, and give place to an entirely different conception of the outer world, which, in contrast with the decorative method hitherto current, must be described as essentially naturalistic; although the faithful reproduction of the real world is by no means the positive goal of this art movement. The causes of this new phenomenon are not to be sought for in any particular progress made by art, for the older art was able, as Moronobu's creations prove, to reach with its simple means a degree of expressiveness and vivacity which later times in some ways never recovered; nor could the invention of the perfect polychrome print have influenced it decisively, for this was not immediately followed by an increase in power of artistic representation. Rather must it have been due to the spirit of the age, to the changed direction of the outer as well as the inner life of Japan, that minuter detail and greater variety of representation was now required of her art. This, indeed, and this alone, can account for the falling off in strength, fulness, and robustness, which is noticeable henceforward.
But Harunobu forms not only the beginning of a new, but Vever Collection, Paris
Koechlin Collection, Paris
also the close of an old period in this respect as well, that he himself, in the first years of his activity (towards the end of the fifties) produced a few things still entirely in the style of the old school. Those worth mention are principally two-colour prints (only a few of these exist), for example, a picture of wrestling actors of such power and fierceness that we can hardly recognise in it the refined and delicate master of later years; further, a triptych with single figures. In the employment of broad black masses he shows a sense of grandeur in style which goes beyond his teacher and points directly back to Masanobu himself.
His three-colour prints also are few in number, but of especial importance as a preparatory step toward the complete polychrome print. He produced in this style chiefly kakemono-ye, long, very narrow sheets, which, like the paintings, could be fastened on the pillars of the houses. Masanobu had already attempted this species, and with success, but it was left for Harunobu to establish finally this form, which remained a special favourite until the end of the century. Peculiar skill was demanded in order to dispose a single figure on an extremely limited space so as to keep it both life-like and natural, while yet at the same time producing a decorative effect. Gradually two, three, and at length even more figures were introduced. It was especially the most celebrated artists, Kiyonaga, Utamaro, &c., who cultivated this style by preference. Now Harunobu attempted even in these cases to attain new colour-combinations. On one sheet, representing the delivery of a letter, he employed as his third colour (besides red and blue) not green but yellow, in small spots to heighten the effect of the red; but along with this he obtained a green and a violet by over-printing. In this way he had already five colours at his disposal. But on another sheet, which Fenollosa dates about 1763, a young girl with a monkey, the same three colours are used, the red very deep and the yellow very soft, to achieve a still richer effect. If we include both black and white, which he could dispose in small scattered parts very effectively, to accentuate the effect of the main colours, it is already possible to distinguish nine clearly separate tones, and—this is characteristic of Harunobu—every colour already appears in perfect purity, as do also the tones produced by over-printing. Moreover, they all stand in perfect balance with one another. From this it was only a short step and a mere question of technique to arrive at a colour-print with any desired number of blocks and colours.
This end Harunobu achieved in a series of particularly beautiful compositions, rich in colour and finely cut, of square surimono size, some of which, as, for example, the woman on a white elephant, and another walking over a snow-covered bridge, he dates 1765, to show, by stating the year in which they were made, his justifiable pride in the final success of his invention. He here used five or six wood blocks, and by employing principally light but vivid colours in combination with very delicately blended grey and brown tones, as well as by excellent blind impression, e.g. for snow, he produced a chromatic effect the purity and delicacy of which has hardly been excelled by any subsequent work. Thus we have here one more instance of what has so often been observed, as, for example, at the invention of printing, of the European chiaroscuro-print, and of oil-painting (Van Eyck), that the first products of the new art were also the most perfect, and that subsequent generations have seldom been able to follow them up with adequate success. The further development of colour-prints now no longer depended upon technique, but must be sought exclusively in the idiosyncrasy of each artist, in the way in which he was able to give expression to his peculiar point of view and to his peculiar sense of colour. Here also the chief aim was to secure the distinctest possible effect with the simplest Vever Collection, Paris
Oeder Collection, Düsseldorf
possible means. Harunobu himself sometimes augmented the number of his blocks to seven or even to ten, but what makes him most famous, besides the subtle harmony of his colours, is their purity and unimpaired brilliancy. This radiance, which is peculiar to him and which contrasts most strongly both with the dull colouring of the primitives and with the subdued tones of all the later great masters of the colour-print, Shunsho, Kiyonaga, Utamaro, reminds us forcibly of the gay and sensuous colour-scheme of the Chinese, and leads to the conclusion that Harunobu received the impulse of his revolutionary innovation from the common birthplace of all Eastern-Asiatic culture. The fact that he borrowed the material for his pictures of woman's life from masters like Shunsui and Tsunemasa also points to such a connection. Colour-printing underwent a further development in the beginning of the nineteenth century, in the surimono, a square congratulatory picture, printed sometimes with as many as thirty blocks, and with the aid of all imaginable metallic tints. However admirable this may be in technical respects, it cannot be regarded as especially productive from an artistic point of view, inasmuch as such multiplication of means is after all no more than a tour de force.
- Prints coloured by hand are called urushi-ye; colour prints nishike-ye.
- Binyon (Painting, p. 232) mentions that there are Chinese colour-prints in the British Museum, representing bouquets, flowers, birds, &c, which were brought home from Japan by Kaempfer as early as 1692. They are printed from several blocks and their technique is already fully developed.
- In the Kokka Magazine we are informed that, according to the statement of the celebrated romance writer Kioku Ichio, a wood-carver, Kinroku, invented the colour print, but employed it only in the production of calendars (Deshayes in L'Art, 1893, ii. 10)—Compare Anderson, Japanese Wood-Engraving, pp. 22, 64; Strange, pp. 3, 4.
- Japanese Wood-Engraving, p. 64.
- Ibid., p. 22.
- Anderson Cat., p. 388; Fenollosa Cat., Nos. 40, 57, 80, 92. The dates are taken from the Hayashi Cat.
- Fenollosa Cat., No. 62.
- Fenollosa Cat., Nos. 64, 75, 88-91, 101, 169; Anderson Cat., p. 342; Bing Cat., No. 92 ff. The dates are taken from the Hayashi Cat.
- Anderson Cat., p. 341; Fenollosa Cat., Nos. 83, 92, 99, 100, 102, 104-107, 110-112. The dates are taken from the Hayashi Cat.
- In Japanese these narrow sheets, which are fastened on the door-posts, are called hashira-kakushi.
- Fenollosa Cat., Nos. 85, 93, 103; Tokio Cat., p. 50.