A History of Japanese Colour-Prints/THE FIRST FLOWERING OF THE POLYCHROME PRINT
THE FIRST FLOWERING OF THE POLYCHROME
1. Harunobu—2. Shigemasa—3. Shunsho
His life extended from 1718 to 1770, and, according to the Tokio Catalogue (Introd., p. iv.), he stood at the head of a group of artists which apparently styled itself Kiosen. The master himself seems also to have employed this name. Harunobu, who lived in Yedo, began his activity as early as the fifties, first with two-, then with three-colour prints; but it was not until he had brought the latter to perfection, and had thus found the connecting link with the true polychrome print, that, from the
GIRLS ON SEA-SHORE
year 1765 on, he put forth his full powers and created in the following lustrum an almost countless number of the richest, the most graceful, and the most varied polychrome prints. In the last years of his life he took up painting in addition to his woodcut work. A youthful, amiable disposition distinguishes this renewer of Japanese wood-engraving, and leads him to choose the life of youth, fair women, and lovers as his favourite subjects; actor-prints he produced but seldom, and, as it would seem, only in his earliest years.
If the works of the primitives, with whom background, as such, had no existence, can justly be compared with mosaic (Fenollosa), Harunobu may be said to have created space for his compositions by imparting depth to them through the addition of a background. Instead of leaving the background blank as heretofore he gave it a delicate grey or soft green tint. After he had succeeded in bringing his colours to perfect purity, notably a brilliant blue and a red of oxide of lead which did not turn black as readily as that of his successor Koriusai, he developed, partly by over-printing, partly by the employment of additional blocks, the rest of the tone-series in equal purity, to the number of some fifteen. As the colours which he employed were generally opaque, he endeavoured to obtain his effects less by the manner of their application than by the harmonising of shades and the use of neutral mediating tones. His works of the period round 1767 may be recognised by the fact that the side-wings of the hair are again beginning to project and to form an almost horizontal line below, just over the ear. The year 1768 forms the high-water mark of his activity; thenceforward he signs his prints regularly. Towards 1769 his figures, which until then had been very symmetrical, became longer, the faces, too, changed from a round to an oval shape, and the nose increased in length. Herein he follows a fashion that had become pretty well universal at that time. At the same time he began to use white as the basis of his draperies. Finally, he elaborated his landscapes with loving care, further emphasising details, such as water and snow, by blind printing.
Besides the single sheets, which we shall presently refer to, he illustrated in his early days some books in black and white, such as:—
- The occupations of women, 16 sheets.
- The seven gods of fortune, 8 double sheets.
- An anthology of Chinese poetry, 2 or 3 vols. 1763.
A book of 1762 is mentioned by the Hayashi Catalogue (No. 1491).
Of his colour books, the following are especially worth mention:—
- Pretty women of the Yoshiwara. Yedo, 1770. (Illustrated in Duret, p. 92.)
- Yehon haru no nishiki, spring scenes, 2 vols. (Yedo, 1771), 17 double sheets, light in tone, principally in grey and brown, the landscapes carefully elaborated, but the faces expressionless; probably his last work.
- Wedding scenes, 7 oblong sheets, very delicate in colour and contour.
- Various series of fanciful designs, of oblong shape.
- Occupations of women, 30 sheets.
Of his single sheets, those in the style of the primitives are very scarce, as also the medium-sized colour-print. Of especial beauty are his kakemono-ye, mostly representing a single figure, but not, as Fenollosa states, without background, as the contrary is proved by the very charming work here reproduced, which shows a young girl descending a staircase. Of unusual shape and monumental beauty is a bridal procession, on a black background, in ten broadside folio sheets. Most of his sheets are of a medium quarto form which he was the first to introduce, and usually represent two figures. A representation of cranes in the reeds is exceptional. His prints of the year 1765 Bing Collection, Paris
have already been mentioned in the preceding chapter; to them belongs, among others, that of a young girl reading a letter. Strange reproduces (plate 2, page 30) two women; Anderson (Japanese Wood-Engraving, plate ii.), a woman with a vessel of water on her head, who turns, in the act of walking, toward a child that she is leading by the hand. Fenollosa (Outline, pl. viii.) reproduces a print of about 1768-69, for which ten wood blocks, exclusive of the black and white block, were employed. Among other compositions may be mentioned:—
- A youth discovering bamboo shoots in snow.
- Sennin Kinko in the shape of a woman, seated on a carp.
- Washerwoman tripping gracefully through a brook.
- Dancing girl with a large Tai fish.
- A young woman at her door with two youthful companions and a dog.
- Two little girls at a temple gate — one of his most delicate creations.
- Two women standing in the water, one of whom is catching small fish by the aid of a cormorant, while the other keeps them in a bowl.
- Two female water-carriers, one of whom is standing in the water and filling a bucket.
- Two women under a large umbrella, protecting themselves from a heavy shower.
- Two girls on the seashore, picking rush-leaves.
- A youth leading a girl on horseback—one of his most perfect creations.
- Sedan-bearers at night by lantern light.
- A parrot on its perch, large and simple (Berlin Kunstgewerbe-museum).
Other sheets are mentioned by Bing (Catalogue, No. 133), and the Leroux Catalogue.
A word of warning may be added concerning the reprints of Harunobu's works, as they appear to have been made from re-cut blocks; they can be recognised by the thickness of the contours, the deep impression of the lines, the dirty dull colours and especially the sooty black. Blind printing is also employed with particular frequency.
Harunobu is said to have left a son or pupil, Harunobu II., who learned to draw in the Dutch (European) style (Anderson Catalogue, p. 342). Fenollosa names another pupil of Harunobu, Fujinobu (Catalogue, No. 163; see under Shigenaga), also Kuninobu (No. 164). Suzuki Haruji, of whom we have kakemono-ye, was very similar to the master, and therefore probably his pupil. The following are further mentioned as his pupils: Harushige, his son, who worked principally in the seventies (Hayashi Catalogue, No. 415); Harutsugu (ibid., No. 419 seqq.); Haruhiro, i.e. Koriusai (see below); Muranobu (ibid., No. 422); Uchimasa (ibid., No. 423).
Among contemporaries of Harunobu may be mentioned: Miyagawa Tominobu (Hayashi Catalogue, No. 354); Minko, of Osaka, who came to Yedo in 1760 (ibid., Nos. 406, 407) and illustrated books about 1765 and 1770; Uyeno Shoha (ibid., No. 408); Soan (ibid., No. 409); Morino Sogiku (ibid., No. 410); Kogan (ibid., No. 411); Shoshoken (ibid., No. 412); Soshosai Seiko (ibid., No. 413).
Yamato Yoshinobu, often confused with Harunobu, was very
likely also a pupil of Shigenaga (Hayashi Catalogue, No. 350), and
worked at two-colour prints of very delicate and naive character
towards the end of the fifties (Fenollosa, No. 95); he was perhaps
the same person as the later Komai Yoshinobu (Fenollosa, No.
167). Another pupil of Shigenaga was Shigemasa, who began
with three-colour prints about the middle of the sixties, and
soon after, at the same time with Harunobu, turned to polychrome prints, continuing thenceforward, beside Harunobu, as
one of the principal masters of this school. Before, however,
we give our attention to him and the remaining contemporaries
of Harunobu, it will be necessary to speak of an artist who, as
the immediate continuer of Harunobu, so completely assimilated his style of drawing, though not his colour, that some have
thought they could recognise in him a new phase of Harunobu
under another name. This man is
Koriusai, like Harunobu, was a master in the use of blind printing, especially for indicating dress patterns. He employed it in a specially masterly manner on a series of original representations of the zodiac, drawings of animals of wonderful variety and with a splendour of colour that makes them perhaps the most triumphant success of Japanese colour-printing and certainly stamps them as the high-water mark of this artist's work, to which none of his other productions can be compared. In this style we have by him fighting cocks, red and white, parrots which are left in white on a ground of a beautiful brick red. He was noted for his representations of animals in general: among others may be mentioned a crane's nest, an eagle which has seized a pheasant, a white crane in the snow, the Howo bird above clouds, cranes at sunrise, ducks in the reeds, pheasants, and lastly, a fat white cat about to pounce on some butterflies, partly in blind printing.
Especially celebrated is his series of fifteen medium-sized sheets, in which the black of the background plays an important part, each depicting a courtesan in a magnificently patterned robe, with two young attendants; this series he began about 1777 and brought to a close about 1780. Of his early period there is a series of eight charming sheets representing the different periods of the day by female figures. A series of erotic prints, small oblong, are very delicate in colour.
Vever Collection, Paris
Koriušai: Lady in the Snow. Kakemono.
Vever Collection, Paris
Koriušai: Fighting Cocks. The tenth of twelve plates forming an animal series.
R. Wagner, Berlin
Koriušai: The Returning Sail. A gentleman with a saki-bowl and two girls in a brick-red boat. From the series of eight subjects of Lake Omi. Kakemono.
The following list shows how original are many of his other productions:—
- A child playing with a tortoise, which it is trying to submerge in a bowl of water.
- Five children playing with a rat.
- A child struggling with a polyp.
- Kintoki blowing the flute (Berlin Kunstgewerbemuseum).
- Young women standing on a balcony at sunset.
- Two young women on a balcony lighted by red lanterns, looking down upon a throng of people who are trying to shelter themselves from the rain under a large umbrella.
Strange reproduces, on page 32, a young man holding on his shoulder a young girl, who is trying to set a striking clock.
The cause of the discoloration of the orange-red containing lead, which occurs more frequently with Koriusai than any one else, has been attributed to artificial oxidising, and also to the application of black by means of the ball of the thumb; but it is probably the usual entirely unintentional oxidising of a not very permanent colour, as the manner in which this black appears and the way it passes over into the red has every appearance of being due to accidental variations, according to the degree of thickness with which it was laid on. Just herein lies the inimitable charm of colour that attaches to these prints. In the surimono-like animal designs, which were executed with great care, this peculiarity is not found, obviously because better colours have been employed. Similar changes may be noticed in other much-faded prints of this period, which, after they have been long exposed to the light, have sometimes scarcely a trace of colour left, but for this very reason have charmed our painters in the highest degree. Though such a predilection may attest an almost morbid over-refinement of the human mind, still it has a certain justification, and may even, considering how shy our time is of colour, be a normal phenomenon. For that reason, painters will not easily be convinced that in neither case are the changes intentional.
2. Shigemasa.—In the year 1764, one year before the invention of the polychrome print, there first appear those artists whose vocation it was, as followers of Harunobu, to control and direct Japanese art in its further development: Shigemasa, Shunsho, and Kiyonaga. The first two of ⟨⟩ will be treated of in this chapter, as their principal ⟨⟩, like that of Koriusai, the immediate follower of Harunobu, falls in the seventies. Kiyonaga, however, whose full influence was not felt until the beginning of the eighties, simultaneously with that of Shunsho's pupils, will be discussed in a separate chapter, more especially as he represents, on his own merits, the high-water mark of Japanese wood-engraving.
Shunsho, like Hokusai, is apt to be overrated, as he is
better known and especially pleasing to the eye. The merit,
however, of having, after Harunobu, effected the transition
from the style of the old period to that of the new, belongs
undoubtedly to Shigemasa, who, besides, deserves especial attention
as one of the best draughtsmen among Japanese artists.
is said to have only died in 1819; if so no works from his hand during these last decades of his life are extant. He progressed slowly and did not develop his full activity until the seventh decade, producing little, but dedicating himself with comparative zeal to book-illustration. Then, at last, toward the end of the seventies, he reaches his full height. His works are rare, and only the early ones are signed with his name, but still his unsigned productions show his characteristics unmistakably. His kakemono-ye are also rare, but among them are some very beautiful things; Fenollosa considers the sheet with two lovers and a man holding an ape (Catalogue, No. 215), which he places about 1781, as perhaps the most beautiful of this class. As he is simpler in his drawing than Koriusai and Shunsho, so he is also softer in colouring. The best draughtsman of the generation active in the seventh decade, he is particularly happy in rendering with perfected art the sinuous movement of garments, as, in general, he is unexcelled in lively movement, e.g. in his print of the No-dancer with the fox mask of about 1777. He collaborated with several of his contemporaries in the illustration of books.
Of his single sheets Fenollosa cites among others (Catalogue, No. 208) a series of geishas, which he dates circa 1775, and which form a kind of pendant to Koriusai's series of courtesans. From his very early period there dates a three-colour print of a young man acting as umpire at a cock-fight.
Besides the ordinary genre pictures, he also did animal representations; Bing (Catalogue, No. 299 ff.) cites a cock with a hen, horses (with blind printing), an eagle on the alert; further, irises on the edge of a brook down which drinking-cups are floating, a view of the river Sumida in Yedo. Beautiful renderings of plants on large oblong sheets are to be found in Gonse's collection. Strange gives a reproduction of one of his prints at page 24.
He distinguished himself to a marked degree as an illustrator. Besides the excellent polychrome illustrations which he executed in collaboration with Shunsho, and of which we shall speak when we treat of the latter, the Seiro Bijin awase sugata kagami (Beauties of the Yoshiwara), 1776, and the twelve representations of sericulture, he also produced independently the following:—
- Yehon fuku jiro, illustrations of legends. Yedo, 1791.
- Tales for children. 1791.
- Kwacho shashin zuye (flowers and birds), 1805, 3 vols.
- Album with fish, Yehon tatsu no miyako.
In black and white he produced:—
- Yehon biwako, representations of women. 1775.
- Yehon yotsu no toki. 1775.
- Yehon yasu Ujikawa, celebrated Chinese and Japanese heroes. 1786.
- Yehon Kamagadake, celebrated horses and their owners. 1802.
His pupil was Kitao Masanobu, called, as poet, Santo Kioden, his family name being Iwasi, his personal name Denzo; he lived from 1761 to 1816 (the dates: 1775–1830 given in the first edition are corrected according to the Hayashi Catalogue). He signed himself Kitao Shinsai, Risai, Kankoku, Seisai, Hosan, &c. He did not produce much, as he followed also the vocation of poet. His activity began in 1778 (Fenollosa Catalogue, No. 217). Fenollosa reproduces, on pl. xi. of the Outline, a print from the Illustrations of Pretty Women (Shin Bijin Awase Jhhitsu Kagami, 1784).
By him we have:
- A series of the Fifty Poets, printed in deep but very harmonious colours.
- A pamphlet, New Illustrations of Pretty Women, seven double sheets in large folio; on each are two or three women, sometimes with children, with a slightly indicated landscape background; the colour is gay, the drawing careless, the expression defective.
- Eight landscapes of Kanazawa, represented by women.
GIRLS TYING POEMS ON BLOSSOMING TREES IN SPRING
- Kioka gojunin isshu (fifty humorous poems), 1786 (Yedo).
- A small work in black and white, of the year 1802, humorous tales of wise men and fools in the baths.
Other illustrated books are mentioned by Duret.
Yenkoan seems to have been a pupil of Shigemasa (illustration in Hayashi Catalogue, No. 1006), and Nagabide a contemporary, who produced about 1770 a number of very graceful prints of single female figures. Kurth (Utamaro, p. 87) makes him a pupil of Nagayoshi, and accordingly puts his active period later, saying that he worked in Kioto and Osaka and that his pictures of actors were influenced by Sharaku. The Yekon Chuko teijo kagami (the Mirror of the Faith of Virtuous Women) (Jaekel Collection) is by him. Further research is needed on Nagabide.
Later on we shall mention two other pupils of Shigemasa, Shumman and Masayoshi.
His first print, about 1764, represented the five actors known by the name of Gonin Otoko. Towards the end of the sixties this artist develops his fullest activity. He produced innumerable actor prints all of them noted for their vivacity of movement and strength of colouring, although the expression of emotion was of less consequence than in Harunobu or Kiyonaga. With an extremely simple yet effective arrangement of draperies, Shunsho succeeded, by his clever distribution of black masses, in producing an admirably decorative effect, for which the rendering of actors in women's parts—which in Japan are always taken by men—offered him special opportunities. Strange reproduces a picture of this class (plate iii.), and also one with two actors at page 94; also Anderson (Japanese Wood-Engraving) on plate iii. Fenollosa (Outline, pl. x.) reproduces a print from the Seiro Bijin Awase of 1775.
Other works by him are:
- Five representations from the play Sembonzakura.
- Likenesses of actors in quarter length, in frames, oblong octavo, very delicately coloured.
- Sheets of wrestlers, such as Shunko, Shunyei, and others produced.
- Beautiful surimonos.
- A kakemono-ye, two young women playing with a monkey.
- A Buddhist winged angel, playing the lute, reminding us of Italian Renaissance compositions.
- A horse under a cherry tree in blossom.
- No-dancer, of larger size (Berlin Kunstgewerbemuseum).
R. Wagner, Berlin
Shunshō: Actor in Female Costume executing a Dance with a Hobby-horse. On the screen the mountain Fujiyama. In red, grey, green, &c.
Vever Collection, Paris
Bunčhō: A lady in the Snow. Grey and yellow.
Of his illustrated works in polychrome, the following may be mentioned:—
- Theatre fans. Yedo, 1769.
- Kobi no Tsubo, a collection of actor likenesses, 1770, still somewhat conventional, but very effective in colour.
- Nishiki hiakunin isshiu azumi ori, the hundred celebrated poets (Yedo, 1774), one of his principal works.
- Sairo bijin awase sugata kagami, mirror of the beauties of the Green
- Houses, in collaboration with Shigemasa, 3 vols. Yedo, 1776. Sanjirokkasen, the six-and-thirty poets. Yedo, 1775.
Other works in Duret.
The Green Houses is probably the most beautiful illustrated work that Japanese art ever produced. The beauties who dwell in the green-painted houses of pleasure are here generally represented in fours on a double sheet, engaged in the various occupations of their daily life, playing, smoking, at music, painting, poetry, in the garden. Also some sheets with very beautiful conventionalised plants. A characteristic of this work is a special light rose colour which predominates with violet, grey-brown, and yellow, and gives a very delicate effect.
- Another celebrated work, in which he likewise collaborated with Shigemasa, is the illustrations of Sericulture, in twelve sheets, each usually representing three people at work, with explanatory verses above.
- With Buncho he edited, in 1770, a series of actor likenesses in quarter length, each represented on a fan: Yehon butai ogi; the earliest book of polychrome prints, after those of Harunobu.
- Lastly, with his contemporary Toyoharu, he edited a folio representing the twelve months, the sheets divided diagonally, with landscapes on the upper part and groups mostly of three figures on the lower; the slender figures are very graceful in movement, the shading very soft; evidently a work of his early days.
A very numerous flock of pupils was educated by him, and it is difficult to differentiate them, as they followed his style with fidelity, and most of them, like their master, cultivated actor prints. But it will be necessary, before speaking of the individual pupils, to advert to two contemporaries and rivals of Shunsho, who can hardly be separated from him, as, though working entirely in his spirit, they form, through the peculiarity of their nature, a necessary complement to the manner of that artist. They are Buncho and Toyoharu.
- A girl smoking on a balcony.
- A girl looking at a hototogisu (night cuckoo).
Bing Collection, Paris
Fenollosa (Outline, pl. ix.) reproduces the picture of an actor of about 1772.
Reproductions of drawings by Buncho were given in the Buncho Sensei Gwafu (Yedo, 1816), black with some colour.
His pupil was Kincho Sekiga (illustration in Hayashi Catalogue, No. 477).
Here we must also mention a contemporary of Toyoharu, Shiba Gokan (or Kokan) who was born 1747 and died 1818. He signed himself Shun, Shumpa, Fugen Dojin, and Kungaku; in daily life he was known as Katsusaburo. He was a pupil of Harunobu, whose manner he continued after the death and under the name of the master. He is mentioned as the first Japanese artist who learned the rules of perspective from the Dutch and applied them in his book of travels, Gwato saiyudan, 1781. He is also said to have been the first to execute copperplate in Japan, but Burty (Catalogue, No. 455) mentions as the first attempt in this technique a meisho (book of travels) consisting of thirty-one oblong sheets, of the year 1849, which would thus
Bing Collection, Paris
Utágawa Toyónobu: Acrobats, "Artists of Osaka." Brick red predominates.
Vever Collection, Paris
Shunyei: Peasant Girl in Trousers and Sandals leading a Horse loaded with Rice-straw.
be half a century later. The knowledge of perspective, which is distinctly traceable in Toyoharu, and is seen again in Hokusai, may, however, have been passed over to these artists by Gokan. The Hayashi Catalogue (No. 462) gives a (coloured) landscape which he is said to have drawn on stone; but this is most improbable, as lithography was only invented in Europe about 1800.
One of the most faithful pupils of Shunsho's early period was Katsukawa Shunko, who worked chiefly from the latter half of the sixties to the middle of the eighties; towards the end the proportions of his figures became exaggerated. The Hayashi Catalogue (No. 585) gives 1827 as the year of his death. An illustrated book by him appeared at Yedo in 1795. Besides representations of actors and wrestlers, a blind man dancing is cited as by him (illustrated in Hayashi Catalogue, No. 588). One Kichosai Shunko (illustration in Hayashi Catalogue, No. 788) belongs to the nineteenth century. Perhaps he is identical with Shunko II. (ibid., No. 787), who already shows European influences.
There were also engaged in actor representation Katsukawa Shuntoku, Shunyen, and Shunki; of the latter we have a dancing actor, reproduced by Strange, page 34.
One of his pupils was Shunto (illustration in Hayashi Catalogue, No. 786), a successor (?) about 1830 of Shunwa (ibid., No. 789). As his pupils, we shall also have occasion to mention Shunsen and Shuntei, the contemporaries of Hokusai.
Three other pupils of the latter part of Shunsho's life, Shunman, Shuncho, and Shunzan, came entirely under the influence of Kiyonaga, the victorious successor of their master, thus following the tendency of the times. They can thus be postponed to the end of the chapter on Kiyonaga. With respect to Gakutei, see under Hokusai.
As further pupils of Shunsho may be mentioned: Katsukawa Shundo, who also signed himself Rantokusai. An illustrated book by him appeared at Yedo in 1790 (illustration in Hayashi Catalogue, No. 622 seqq.). Katsukawa Shemkaku (ibid., No. 625), Katsukawa Shunsui II. (ibid., No. 628), Shunri (ibid., No. 771), Shunjo, who published an illustrated book at Yedo in 1782 (ibid., No. 618).
Probable pupils of Shunsho are: Angiusai Yenshi, who, according to the Tokio Catalogue (No. 163), worked in the eighties in the style of Kiyonaga (Hayashi Catalogue, No. 766), and Shoyu (ibid., No. 770).
Other contemporary artists are: Katsukawa Kinjiro (Hayashi Catalogue, No. 629). Ikku, whose family name was Shigeda and whose artistic name was Yochichi, was specially famous as a novelist (ibid., No. 769); illustrated books by him appeared at Yedo from 1799 to 1813. Rinkusai, who published a book of actors (Yedo, 1790), 3 vols. (Duret).
A LADY HOLDING SAKÉ-CUP, WITH ATTRIBUTES OF
- Fenollosa Cat., Nos. 96, 98, 109, 117-133, 142; Anderson Cat, p. 342; Strange, p. 29; Cat. Burty, No. 178 f. The biographical dates are taken from the Hayashi Cat.
- Strange, p. 32; Fenollosa Cat., Nos. 143, 147, 151, 154-160; Bing Cat, No. 146 ff. The Hayashi Cat. speaks of him as a pupil of Shigenaga.
- Fenollosa Cat., Nos. 114, 204-216; Anderson Cat., p. 344; Cat. Burty, No. 197 ff.; Strange, p. 86.
- Fenollosa Cat., Nos. 178-201; Anderson Cat., p. 343; Bing Cat., No. 235 ff.; Cat. Burty, No. 189 ff., 196; Strange, p. 33 f. The biographical dates are taken from the Hayashi Cat.
- Fenollosa Cat., No. 117. See also supra under Choshun.
- Fenollosa, Outline, p. 35.
- Fenollosa Cat., Nos. 181, 182, 184; Bing Cat., No. 170 ff.; Hayashi Cat.
- Fenollosa Cat., Nos. 173-177; Anderson Cat., p. 347. The biographical dates are taken from the Hayashi Cat. (my first edition made him reach the age of sixty-nine years).
- Cat., No. 170.
- Anderson Cat., p. 344: id., Japanese Wood-Engraving; Strange, p. 32 Bing in the Revue blanche, vii. (1896), pp. 314, 315 note.
- Fenollosa Cat, Nos. 189, 193, 195, 203; Strange, p. 36; Bing Cat., No. 278 ff.; Tokio Cat., p. 74.
- Fenollosa Cat., No. 202; Strange, p. 36; Bing Cat., No. 259 seqq.