Moronobu show an as yet monotonous and heavy hand-colouring, which became the rule for single-sheet prints from about the year 1715 onwards, increasing in variety until about 1743, when Shigenaga and Masanobu, and then gradually all other artists, began to apply themselves to the production of colour-prints, which consisted at first of only two blocks, usually of green and red. At length, towards the end of the fifties, this same Shigenaga, and along with him especially Torii Kiyomitsu, added a third block for blue or grey. Shigenaga's pupil, however, the inventive and graceful Harunobu, introduced, about 1765, the principle of printing colour-blocks over each other; henceforward colour-printing was freed from all restrictions whether as to the number of the blocks or possible colour effects, and the road that was destined to lead to the highest triumphs of the colour-printing art was clear of every obstacle. The right moment had now come for Shunsho with his numerous school, for Kiyonaga and for Utamaro, who in the closing third of the eighteenth century brought Japanese wood-engraving to its full development. Hokusai, at the beginning of the nineteenth century, was the last of the great artists of this line. Out of the multitude of the artists who follow, still for the most part admirably trained but lacking in dignity and precision, Hiroshige, with his subtly subjective landscapes, alone stands out conspicuously.
A comparison of the development of wood-engraving in Europe will show that events took a very similar course in the East and the West. In Europe wood-engraving was invented towards the end of the fourteenth century. For more than fifty years its use remained confined to single sheets, principally pictures, with the occasional addition of a name or a few lines of text engraved on the same block. Soon after the invention of printing with type, about the middle of the fifteenth century,
- Fenollosa Cat., p. 114.