Page:A history of Japanese colour-prints by Woldemar von Seidlitz.djvu/40

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the goal of artistic endeavour grows gradually clearer, the time is at hand when they too may point the right way towards it, and are no longer in danger of being admired solely for their strange and exquisite subtlety—a subtlety eloquent of that wide-spreading deep-seated canker which afflicted eighteenth-century Japan just as it could have been observed to afflict contemporary Europe.

The differentia of Japanese art is just this, that into perfectly conventional forms is infused a content constantly fresh-drawn from Nature. The development of the European poster, which would be quite unthinkable without Japanese influence, is only the first step towards a renewal of European painting in all its branches, and especially of monumental painting. The solution after which we are reaching has been forming there for centuries. And, whatever the difference of circumstances, requirements, and race, the fact remains that Japanese art is far closer to us than the art of our own past, with which, however much we may admire its productions, we are completely out of touch. The transition to genuine Greek art, which after all is bound to remain our ideal, is easier by far to accomplish from Japanese art than from the romantic art which still endeavours to maintain its hegemony over us to-day.

2. Technique.—In considering the importance of the part which wood-engraving plays in the life of Japan, we must distinguish sharply between the productions of the decline, which began about 1840, and those of the preceding 150 years. The later productions, like our sheets of coloured illustrations, cater for the amusement of the masses: those of earlier periods, on the other hand, occupy a position midway between painted pictures and popular illustrations, much like the woodcuts and copper-plates of the European Renaissance. Here, as in Europe, the designs for the wood-engravings were supplied by professional painters, who either actually continued, or at any rate were fully competent, to follow concurrently their regular