Page:A history of Japanese colour-prints by Woldemar von Seidlitz.djvu/278

This page has been validated.



gentle or forceful, nor indeed individualising them in any remarkable way, he was yet able to impress the stamp of life and movement upon all his compositions; it is precisely in the outward repose, equable and graceful, with which he endowed them that he shows himself the truest embodier of that ideal of propriety, so highly valued among the Japanese as among all Asiatic nations of culture, which celebrates its highest triumphs in the greatest possible restraint of the emotions, without ever petrifying into a senseless formalism; on the contrary, through this manner of expression, the consciousness of the natural dignity of man appears all the more clearly and inspires the spectator to rise superior to the vulgar agitations of passion and desire. It was only as uniting in himself all previous aspirations, and now as master in addition of all the treasures of grace, charm, magic, and beauty meanwhile discovered, that Kiyonaga was enabled to achieve once more a style as powerful as that of Moronobu, the founder of Japanese wood-engraving one hundred years earlier, when the latter, without special preparation and without the facilities of later times, stood facing a whole world of phenomena unexplored.

When Kiyomitsu died Kiyonaga assumed the name of the fourth Torii, to show that he was the head of the fourth generation of Torii. Later, however, when he had perfected a style of his own, he abandoned the designation Torii. With the end of the ninth decade there came for Kiyonaga also, in one direction, a decline. The proportions of his figures became long and inclined toward an exaggerated elegance, and particularly his faces took that oval form which thenceforth became almost universally prevalent, and is especially frequent in the works of Utamaro, but which is sharply distinguished from the rectangular formation which Kiyonaga preferred in the days of his strength. The arbitrary virtuosity of his contours increased more and more, but, on the other hand, he still preserved his other excellences;