Page:A history of Japanese colour-prints by Woldemar von Seidlitz.djvu/156

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Japanese Colour-Prints

seventeenth century, which in the subsequent era of universal stagnation had fallen into oblivion. His peculiar glory, however, consists in this, that he brought wood-engraving to such instant perfection that his influence remained predominant throughout the entire period that elapsed until the invention of tone polychrome-printing, the period, that is, of the "primitives," which lasted for two whole generations.

Such "primitives" are now held in far higher estimation than formerly. We recognise in them not only forerunners, but men of heroic race, who, without being able to claim the highest honours paid to the gods, still exhibit a power, a freshness, and a grace that are hardly met with in the same degree in later times. Despite the imperfections that necessarily attach to their works, despite their lack of external correctness, their limitation to few and generally crude materials, and their conventionalism, there clings to their works a charm such as belongs to the works neither of the most brilliant nor of the pronouncedly naturalistic periods. For, in the singleness of their effort to make their drawing as expressive as possible, without regard to any special kind of beauty or truth, these "primitives" discover a power of idealisation and a stylistic skill which, at a later period and with increased knowledge, are quite unthinkable. The conscious striving after beauty and symmetry detracts somewhat from the freshness of immediate observation, and deprives it of some part of its force; while, on the other hand, the attempt to imitate nature exactly draws the artist away from the true goal of art, for it leads him only too easily to forget that he is the creator, and not the copyist of nature. While, therefore, all subsequent endeavours lead only to this result, that after many and various attempts to bring beauty into harmony with truth, the flower of art blossoms for a brief season, to be followed immediately by decay, the "primitives," on the other hand, keep on their way unconcerned about the solution of such