Page:A history of Japanese colour-prints by Woldemar von Seidlitz.djvu/306

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JAPANESE COLOUR-PRINTS

all the refinements of mental culture as well as of bodily enchantment, and then playing in the life of Japan such a part as she must have played in Hellas during the golden age of Greek civilisation. For expressing the inexpressible, the simple rendering of nature did not suffice; the figures must needs be lengthened to give the impression of supernatural beings; they must have a pliancy enabling them to express vividly the tenderest as well as the most intense emotions of the soul; lastly, they must be endowed with a wholly peculiar and therefore affected language for uttering the wholly peculiar sensations that filled them. Utamaro possessed the courage still further to exaggerate these effects even beyond the limits of the possible, until the point was reached when he could go no further, and a gradual relaxation imposed itself as an obvious necessity.

This time of extreme mannerism did not last longer than a decade, from about 1795 to 1805, and was at its height about 1800. Whether we should seek for its causes, with Fenollosa, in a tightening of the reins of government by the Shoguns, the all-powerful rulers of the country, and explain these fantastic excesses as the reaction of free thought against police interference, or whether, as is more probable, the causes of this movement are deeper and more general: at all events, on the artistic side, Utamaro constituted the truest expression of this remarkable era. It does not suffice to compare him, as did Gonse, with the masters of the school of Fontainebleau in the sixteenth century: it is true that the Ricci, Abbate, and Primaticcio drew figures of impossible length, but these had no other than a decorative significance, and were not intended to personify certain recondite thoughts and feelings. On the other hand we should not be far wrong in calling him a decadent, the Parisian of his day; and it is significant that Goncourt, that finely sensitive explorer of the phenomena of decadence in our times, should begin precisely with this artist his series of bio-