Page:A history of Japanese colour-prints by Woldemar von Seidlitz.djvu/45

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General considerations


which is then pasted face downwards on the block and furnishes the model for the wood-cutter to follow.

It has been much disputed whether the great European masters of wood-engraving, such as Dürer, Holbein, or Cranach, actually cut their own compositions; but there is now a general agreement that they did not do so as a general rule. It is true that a few later artists, e.g. Livens in the Netherlands, and Gubitz, who revived wood-engraving in Germany, practised the art of wood-cutting themselves—were in fact, to use the technical term, "peintres-graveurs"; but they were exceptions. In Japan not a single artist is known to have done his own cutting. They confined themselves to supervising and directing the wood-cutters, who in their turn carried out their employers' intentions so skilfully, readily, and intelligently that the technical part of the process could be entrusted to their hands with perfect security.

Something more must be said about the drawing, in view of its importance for the quality of the finished product. The artist conveys it to the paper, not by means of a pen or pencil as in Europe, but by means of a brush, either in outlines of the utmost delicacy and precision, to be filled in with colour where needed, or else in broad masses which receive no further contour, but on the contrary are the embodiment of the greatest imaginable freedom of artistic touch.[1] It is not necessary that the whole picture should be executed in either style throughout; the central portions may be precisely outlined, while other parts are broadly sketched in; indeed, this is more or less the general rule in the case of foliage, landscape background, and patterns on dresses. The style of precise contours is the traditional style, which was in vogue from the first beginnings of Japanese painting; the broader and sketchier manner is peculiar to the popular methods

  1. For drawing and writing the brush is held almost upright between the fore and second fingers: the whole arm moves, not the wrist. Since Indian ink cannot be erased, the artist is compelled to work with the utmost care and precision.