Page:A history of Japanese colour-prints by Woldemar von Seidlitz.djvu/50

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14

JAPANESE COLOUR-PRINTS

and occasionally several side by side. The extraordinary development of this branch of the art is doubtless due to the fact that the cost of cutting rendered it essential to get the maximum of effect from a minimum number of blocks. This was more especially the case immediately after Harunobu in 1765 invented the colour-print proper with its unlimited number of blocks; and every artist was continually casting about for fresh expedients to reduce the number of his blocks, either by the partial superposition of different-coloured blocks in printing, or by special combinations of colours designed to modify the surrounding colours, and so forth. It is by no means always the case that a sheet is printed from just as many blocks as it has colours; for the printer has it in his power—indeed, this is the capital function of his art—to weaken his colours on any part of the block by rubbing off the pigment or to intensify them by adding more to it, so as to graduate his tones, or else to fuse one colour gradually into another and cover, whether simultaneously or successively, different parts of the block with quite different colours. The artists of the best period found five or seven colours sufficient for their needs; but in the case of the surimonos (see below), which were intended to be unusually sumptuous, especially at the beginning of the nineteenth century, the number often rises to twenty or even thirty.

Correct register of the various colour-blocks is secured by cutting an angle in the lower right-hand corner of the outline-block, and in the left-hand corner in the same straight line a slot. These two marks are cut in exactly the same place on all the other blocks, and in printing the sheets are imposed in such a way that their lower and right-hand edges fit exactly against these marks. By this simple device perfect adjustment of register is almost invariably secured.

Those of us who are only acquainted with modern prints, with their predominance of aniline red and blue, can form no