Page:A history of Japanese colour-prints by Woldemar von Seidlitz.djvu/32

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JAPANESE COLOUR-PRINTS

nature of the country, such as the flimsy construction of the houses, which are small and offer no solid wall-space for truly monumental painting to develop on, or the exclusive use of such elementary media as water-colour and Indian ink—or the position in which the artist works, according to the custom of the country, squatting on the ground and having his painting surface spread out horizontally before him; the consequence being that he only gets, as it were, a bird's-eye view of his picture, and that in the case of the usual long rolls, he can never overlook it as a whole, any more than the spectator can, who inspects the pictures in the same attitude. Now it is quite true that oil-painting, which might easily have brought about a revolution, as it did in Europe, remained unknown to the Eastern Asiatics. Again, had not the volcanic soil, which a succession of earthquakes keeps constantly trembling, prevented the erection of solid masonry, Japanese painting would probably have witnessed a more varied development. But its general character, tendency, and aims would have remained the same; the similarity of earlier developments in Europe and the adjacent countries proves it. National peculiarities of soil and custom may give rise to local variations, but cannot determine an art in its essence; for its roots lie in the national character, which creates its means of representation and technique according to its innate ideals, but conversely will not allow the main tendencies of its art to be determined by external factors.

The imitation of Nature is for the Japanese only a means to an end, not an end in itself. Mere virtuosity in this line does not move them to admiration; were it otherwise, we need only consider their renderings of birds, fishes, insects, and flowers to be sure that, with their splendid powers of observation, they might have achieved far more than they actually have done in this direction. On the contrary, Nature in their eyes merely