Page:A history of Japanese colour-prints by Woldemar von Seidlitz.djvu/273

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THE CULMINATION: KIYONAGA

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of both Harunobu and Shigemasa, but the latter finally gained the upper hand towards the end of the decade. An early actor print, in three colours, is quoted by H. E. Field in The Art of Kiyonaga.[1]

What then are the innovations which he introduced and to which Japanese art owed its advance beyond all previous efforts to the summit of its achievement? First of all, complete liberation from all conventionalism. Of the arbitrary treatment which the primitives had allowed in dealing with the human body, there had remained a trace even up to his time; for the sake of a stronger decorative effect, or greater gracefulness, hands and feet had been drawn too small, or the body too slender and too flexible, or the features too delicate. To all this Kiyonaga now, guided by a highly developed sense of beauty, opposed normal proportions of the body. His figures, during the period of his highest power—for he too, later, following the tendency of the time, leaned toward exaggerated proportions—are absolutely symmetrical, of a healthy roundness and well set up. They move with a natural quiet grace and dignity which has caused them to be compared not unjustly with the noble figures of the most highly developed Greek art. They have been purged of all the mannerisms that played so great a part in the creations of the primitives, without, it is true, prejudicing their artistic effect, as the goal of these artists was not at all the exact rendering of nature, but only the presentation of single characteristic motives of movement. But even that affectation which prevailed in the works of the first artists in free polychrome, and which resulted from insufficient study of nature, was in his case almost non-existent. Knowledge of reality and reverence for it led to a complete renovation of style.

This healthy realism in the creations of Kiyonaga points to a revolution in Japanese art, as from now on—until new

  1. Burlington Magazine, xiii., p. 241, July 1908