Page:Japanese Wood Engravings.djvu/90

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these defects in the principles of the painter’s art must necessarily influence the character of the engraver’s transcript and render the problem of comparison difficult and unprofitable. It must be enough to say that Japanese wood-cuts are distinguished by clearness and decision of line and a remarkably decorative use of masses of black, and in chromoxylography by a colour-harmony that we have yet to equal. Like the work of the artist in lacquer and metal, the finished engraving demonstrates that infinite capacity for taking pains which is so strong a feature of the national character. But when the workman quits his own models and attempts to engrave in the European manner, as in Fig. 37, he imitates with little skill or sympathy. For a new departure he requires a new education, and before he can acquire it the grand old art of the wood-cutter will have passed away.

It is a dismal conclusion to predict the extinction of an art industry to which Japan has owed so much, but the end is inevitable. The introduction of movable metallic types has been the first stroke of fate, for Chinese and Japanese engraving began with the carving-out of the elaborate characters that make up the script of the two nations, and ideographic symbols and pictorial illustrations have held together in close companionship nearly down to the present day; but the glorious old block-books that were enriched by the genius of Moronobu, Sukénobu, Morikuni, and Hokusai have now been replaced by type-printed volumes, on European or Europeanised paper, and illustrated by pictures engraved by the newest photographic processes. The engravers still find some work in chromoxylographic broadsides, and since the outbreak of the great war a market such as they never had before; but even this must end before the march of science and utilitarianism. A time will soon come when the engravings that bear the honoured names set forth in this history will be sought as eagerly by the art collector of Japan as the etchings of Rembrandt and Dürer by ourselves, and the Japanese historian of the twentieth century will regard the illustrated books and broadsides that will be jealously treasured in the Nipponese museum of the future as his best mémoires pour servir in recording the folk-lore, customs, and habits of thoughts of his people in the generations that preceded the era of the compositor and the photographic process-blocks.