Page:Japanese Wood Engravings.djvu/88

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It has been shown that the Chinese, Koreans, and Japanese led the way centuries before the European wood-engraver came into existence, but that the higher development of the Turanian section of the art belongs to Japan and dates only from the later part of the seventeenth century.

It may seem strange that in an historical review of Japanese engraving so little reference has been made to the engraver himself. The reason of this is that the wood-cutter's personality is so completely lost in that of the artist that, although we know the names of the engravers attached to most of the book illustrations of the fourth and later periods, it is scarcely possible to differentiate between the work of one member of the craft and that of another. The business of the wood-cutter was to follow exactly the brush line of the artist, and so conscientiously did he acquit himself that a proof from the wood block could scarcely have been distinguished from the original drawing; but he had only to define outlines and never to interpret in black and white the subtle effects of colour, atmosphere, and light and shade, and there is nothing to be said of him save that he was a clever and painstaking workman, who has ably accomplished a most delicate task and has rendered an invaluable service to the cause of art. To compare him with the European wood-cutter of the present century it may be said that the latter, to win distinction in his calling, must be an artist as well as an engraver, while his Japanese fellow worker required only the qualities of dexterity and patience, and was simply a highly-skilled craftsman. When he had isolated the sweeping strokes of the painter's brush his work was done, and the rest was left to the printer.

On the other hand, while the functions of the European printer of wood engravings demand little more than the ordinary training of a skilled mechanic, the Japanese printer was called upon to take an important share in the consummation. It was he who carried out the artist's scheme of colour, and many of the effects of gradation in chromoxylography, and occasionally even in black and white, could only be attained by an intelligent sympathy between the artist and himself. Every lover of Japanese woodcuts will recognise that much