Page:A history of Japanese colour-prints by Woldemar von Seidlitz.djvu/39

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GENERAL CONSIDERATIONS

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elaboration is called for, but overloaded with detail where a broad treatment would have been better—further, how their birds and insects do not look as though they flew or crawled, how their leaves and trees are not outlined—at least, since there exists no such dividing line between the object and its background in the real world he presumes that they will endeavour to imitate Nature by leaving out these lines. In conclusion he declares himself a strong supporter of Japanese conventionalism.

This is not the place to go into the exact nature of Japanese taste, for this only shows itself in its sharpest definition during the classic period of Japanese painting, which preceded the eighteenth century, the era of wood-engraving. It is the art of the nineteenth century alone which has influenced the most recent developments of European art and modified European taste, although for the Japanese it represents no more than a last phase, a second and less vigorous flowering, however new and subtle its manifestations. It will therefore be sufficient to confine our attention to its formal qualities—the decorative character of its design and its impressionistic point of view.

In these qualities lay predisposed the elements which Europe, during centuries of development along realistic lines, had almost entirely lost sight of. Only a return to the fresh and ever vivid hues of Nature could rescue us from the drab monotony of factitious monochrome; only a resumption of consciously decorative aims in design could rescue us from a method of figure-drawing whose results had as little distinction or individuality as a photographer's pose. Pioneers like Manet, Degas, Bocklin, and their followers were active in both directions. So long, however, as European art was still in the stage of preparation and apprenticeship, the Japanese wood-engravings could render but very limited services, nay, might even mislead into an entirely wrong track. To-day, on the other hand, as