Page:A history of Japanese colour-prints by Woldemar von Seidlitz.djvu/401

This page has been validated.



3. Hiroshige.—Japanese wood-engraving, after it had advanced in the course of 150 years' development from the ornamental to the idealistic and then to the fantastic method of representation, dropped anchor in the haven of naturalism at the end of the first quarter of the nineteenth century. Landscape, which up to then had played but a minor part, now attained an independent significance; at the same time the representation of animals was also perfected. It is true that these efforts were no longer able to put fresh life into the national art, as the general conditions of the country had already assumed too unfavourable an aspect; but for us at all events, this closing era of Japanese wood-engraving has a particular interest on account of its close connection with more recent tendencies in Europe. In the centre of the development of landscape stands Hiroshige, side by side with his older contemporary Hokusai and his younger Kuniyoshi; he himself being probably the creator and in any case the perfecter of this new branch of art. What brings this last great master of Japan especially close to us is, besides this naturalism, the fact that he approaches more nearly to the European method than any other of his countrymen; in fact, he must have studied it extensively, though he does not go so far as to assimilate it completely. In his works the rules of perspective are to a certain extent observed; he aspires to correct composition, with the proper adjustment of foreground and background, and chooses his standpoint accordingly; more particularly, each of his designs has both inner unity and outward finality, in contrast with the Chinese style, which floats as it were in the air. Despite this close approach to European method of representation, however, he still remains completely Japanese; he sees nature with his own eyes, and by virtue of his poetic feeling and largeness of conception he discovers qualities in her which we had failed to appreciate: effects produced by the simplest means, a stretch of flat country, a few