Page:Japanese Wood Engravings.djvu/50

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With these artists the palmy days of colour-printing drew to a close. The last of the masters Utagawa Toyokuni, died in 1828, and his pupils were the first to permit their designs to be dishonoured by cheap and gaudy pigments bought in the newly opened European market. His death was the knell of artistic chromoxylography. The story of its decadence will be told under the heading of the Fifth Period.

There are no coloured engravings in the world that may be compared with those of Japan in the long period from the coming of Torii Kiyonaga to the passing of Utagawa Toyokuni: the eye is beguiled by a brush stroke of ineffable calligraphic beauty and by a tender harmony of colour that cheers, but never wearies the senses. In most of the popular broadsides of this time an almost feminine gentleness pervades the choice of motive and its treatment, and it is but rarely, as in some of the earlier work of Toyokuni and his pupil Kuniyasu, that a stronger chord is struck. As schemes of dramatic decoration they are scarcely to be surpassed and have rarely been equalled; and the time is not far distant when the sheets which brought to artist and engraver the pittance of a mechanic, and were sold for a vile price in the streets of Yedo, Osaka and Kyoto will rank in the estimation of the collector with the masterpieces of the engraver's art.

Engravings in Black and White in the Fourth Period.

Apart from the work of the Torii school in the development of chromoxylography, the first part of the fourth period, extending from 1710 to 1765, is marked principally by the labours of two men, Tachibana Morikuni (1670–1748) and Nishigawa Sukénobu (1671 to about 1760), both pupils of the most severely classical of the orthodox academies of painting, and both prolific artists, who worked in different directions in the cause of book illustration. The former is best known by his volumes of woodcuts, designed for the guidance of artisan artists, comprising drawings of birds, flowers, trees, landscapes, scenes of history and legend, in fact, every kind of motive that could be utilised by industrial draughtsmen—who down to the present day have continued to profit by his legacy—and he has besides left some specimens of his more purely academical work, in the form of a masterly series of quick