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Title: Impressions of Ukiyo-ye, the school of the Japanese colour-print artists
Author: Amsden, Dora
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.

*** Start of this LibraryBlog Digital Book "Impressions of Ukiyo-ye, the school of the Japanese colour-print artists" ***

                          Transcriber’s Notes

Obvious typographical errors have been silently corrected. Variations
in hyphenation have been standardised but all other spelling and
punctuation remains unchanged.

Italics are represented thus _italic_.

Each of the illustrations is accompanied by a fac-simile of the
artist’s signature.

 [Illustration: Surimono: A Crow Stealing a Sword. This sword is a
 famous heirloom of the ancient house of Genji, described in the old
 romance known as “Genji Monogatari.” By Hokusai.]

 [Illustration: Biwa, the Beautiful Lake, so named from its resemblance
 in form to the Four-stringed Lute. By Hiroshige.]

                              OF UKIYO-YE

                             THE SCHOOL OF
                       THE JAPANESE COLOUR-PRINT


                              DORA AMSDEN

                         _The things of Heaven
                    and of Buddha: The Life of Men
                              and Women._

                    _From the Mang-wa of Hokusai._

                         [Illustration: Symbol]

                        PAUL ELDER AND COMPANY
                      SAN FRANCISCO AND NEW YORK

                            _Copyright 1905
                      by_ PAUL ELDER AND COMPANY

                            REVISED EDITION

                           The Tomoye Press

                      MY BROTHER AND BEST FRIEND
                        CHARLES WATSON JACKSON


  The Rise of Ukiyo-ye (The Floating World)                            1

  Genroku (The Golden Era of Romance and Art)                         13

  The School of Torii (The Printers Branch of Ukiyo-ye)               25

  Utamaro (Le Fondateur de L’École de la Vie)                         35

  The Romance of Hokusai (Master of Ukiyo-ye)                         47

  Hiroshige (Landscape Painter and Apostle of Impressionism)          57

  Analytical Comparisons between the Masters of Ukiyo-ye              69

  Hints to Collectors of Ukiyo-ye Gems                                77

  Bibliography, for Use of Students                                   78

  Fac-similes of the Most Famous Signatures of the Ukiyo-ye Artists   80

  Index                                                               83


  Hiroshige I—Biwa, the Beautiful Lake, named after the
  four-stringed Lute                                      _Frontispiece_

  Suzuki Harunobu—An Illustration from the “Occupations of
  Women”                                              _Opposite Page_ 22

  Kiyonaga—Under the Cherry Blooms                                “   30

  Toyokuni—The Actor Kikugoro                                     “   34

  [A]Utamaro—While Mother Sleeps                                  “   40

  Hokusai—Two Ladies                                              “   48

  Hok’kei—A River Scene                                           “   52

  Hiroshige—Wistaria Viewing at Kameido                           “   58

  Yeishi—Two Ladies                                               “   70

  Shunko—An actor in the Miyako Dance                             “   72

  Kitugawa Yeizan—The Snowstorm                                   “   74

  Hokusai—One of the Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji               “   76

  Hokusai—Surimono: A Crow Stealing a Sword             _First Fly-leaf_

  Yanagawa Shigenobu—The Ride of the Warrior
  Miura Kenisuke                                         _Last Fly-leaf_

[Footnote A: From the Happer Collection.]

                        IMPRESSIONS OF UKIYO-YE

                         The Rise of Ukiyo-ye.

                          The Floating World.

The Art of Ukiyo-ye is a “spiritual rendering of the realism and
naturalness of the daily life, intercourse with nature, and imaginings,
of a lively impressionable race, in the full tide of a passionate
craving for art.” This characterization of Jarves sums up forcibly the
motive of the masters of Ukiyo-ye, the Popular School of Japanese Art,
so poetically interpreted “The Floating World.”

To the Passionate Pilgrim, and devotee of nature and art, who has
visited the enchanted Orient, it is unnecessary to prepare the way for
the proper understanding of Ukiyo-ye. This joyous idealist trusts less
to dogma than to impressions. “I know nothing of Art, but I know what
I like,” is the language of sincerity, sincerity which does not take
a stand upon creed or tradition, nor upon cut and dried principles
and conventions. It is truly said that “they alone can pretend to
fathom the depth of feeling and beauty in an alien art, who resolutely
determine to scrutinize it from the point of view of an inhabitant of
the place of its birth.”

To the born cosmopolite, who assimilates alien ideas by instinct,
or the gauging power of his sub-conscious intelligence, the feat is
easy, but to the less intuitively gifted, it is necessary to serve a
novitiate, in order to appreciate “a wholly recalcitrant element like
Japanese Art, which at once demands attention, and defies judgment upon
accepted theories.” These sketches are not an individual expression,
but an endeavour to give in condensed form the opinions of those
qualified by study and research to speak with authority upon the form
of Japanese Art, which in its most concrete development the Ukiyo-ye
print is now claiming the attention of the art world.

The development of colour printing is, however, only the objective
symbol of Ukiyo-ye, for, as our Western oracle, Professor Fenollosa,
said, “The true history of Ukiyo-ye, although including prints as one
of its most fascinating diversions, is not a history of the technical
art of printing, rather an æsthetic history of a peculiar kind of

The temptation to make use of one more quotation, in concluding these
introductory remarks, is irresistible, for in it Walter Pater sets
his seal upon art as a legitimate pursuit, no matter what form it
takes, though irreconcilable with preconceived ideas and traditions.
“The legitimate contention is not of one age or school of art against
another, but of all successive schools alike, against the stupidity
which is dead to the substance, and the vulgarity which is dead to

As the Popular School (Ukiyo-ye) was the outcome of over a thousand
years of growth, it is necessary to glance back along the centuries in
order to understand and follow the processes of its development.

Though the origin of painting in Japan is shrouded in obscurity, and
veiled in tradition, there is no doubt that China and Corea were the
direct sources from which she derived her art; whilst more indirectly
she was influenced by Persia and India,—the sacred fount of oriental
art,—as of religion, which ever went hand in hand.

In China, the Ming dynasty gave birth to an original style, which for
centuries dominated the art of Japan; the sweeping calligraphic strokes
of Hokusai mark the sway of hereditary influence, and his wood-cutters,
trained to follow the graceful, fluent lines of his purely Japanese
work, were staggered by his sudden flights into angular realism.

The Chinese and Buddhist schools of art dated from the sixth century,
and in Japan the Emperor Heizei founded an imperial academy in 808.
This academy, and the school of Yamato, founded by Motomitsu in the
eleventh century, led up to the celebrated school of Tosa, which with
Kano, its august and aristocratic rival, held undisputed supremacy for
centuries, until challenged by plebeian Ukiyo-ye, the school of the
common people of Japan.

Tosa has been characterized as the “manifestation of ardent faith,
through the purity of an ethereal style.” Tosa represented the taste
of the court of Kyoto, and was relegated to the service of the
aristocracy; it reflected the esoteric mystery of Shinto and the
hallowed entourage of the divinely descended Mikado. The ceremonial
of the court, its fêtes and religious solemnities,—dances attended
by daimios, in robes of state falling in full harmonious folds,—were
depicted with consummate elegance and delicacy of touch, which
betrayed familiarity with the occult methods of Persian miniature
painting. The Tosa artists used very fine, pointed brushes, and set
off the brilliance of their colouring with resplendent backgrounds
in gold leaf, and it is to Tosa we owe the intricate designs, almost
microscopic in detail, which are to be seen upon the most beautiful
specimens of gold lacquer work; and screens, which for richness have
never been surpassed.

Japanese Art was ever dominated by the priestly hierarchy, and also by
temporal rulers, and of this the school of Tosa was a noted example, as
it received its title from the painter-prince, Tsunetaka, who, besides
being the originator of an artistic centre, held the position of
vice-governor of the province of Tosa. From its incipience, Tosa owed
its prestige to the Mikado and his nobles, as later Kano became the
official school of the usurping Shoguns. Thus the religious, political
and artistic history of Japan were ever closely allied. The Tosa style
was combated by the influx of Chinese influence, culminating in the
fourteenth century, in the rival school of Kano. The school of Kano
owed its origin to China. At the close of the fourteenth century the
Chinese Buddhist priest, Josetsu, left his own country for Japan, and
bringing with him Chinese tradition, he founded a new dynasty whose
descendants still represent the most illustrious school of painting in
Japan. The Kano school to this day continues to be the stronghold of
classicism, which in Japan signifies principally adherence to Chinese
models, a traditional technique, and avoidance of subjects which
represent every-day life. The Chinese calligraphic stroke lay at the
root of the technique of Kano, and the Japanese brush owed its facility
elementarily to the art of writing. Dexterous handling of the brush is
necessary to produce these bold, incisive strokes, and the signs of the
alphabet require little expansion to resolve themselves into draped
forms, and as easily they can be decomposed into their abstract element.

Walter Crane inculcates the wisdom of this method for preliminary
practice with the brush in his valuable study, “Line and Form,” but
the Chinese and Japanese ideographs give a far wider scope to initial
brush work.

The early artists of Kano reduced painting to an academic art, and
destroyed naturalism, until the genius of Masanobu, who gave his name
to the school, and still more, that of his son, Motonobu, the real
“Kano,” grafted on to Chinese models, and monotony of monochrome, a
warmth of colour and harmony of design which regenerated and revivified
the whole system. Kano yielded to Chinese influence, Tosa combated it,
and strove for a purely national art, Ukiyo-ye bridged the chasm, and
became the exponent of both schools, bringing about an expansion in art
which could never have been realized by these aristocratic rivals. The
vigour and force of the conquering Shoguns led Kano, while the lustre
of Tosa was an emanation from the sanctified and veiled Mikado.

The favourite subjects of the Kano painters were chiefly Chinese saints
and philosophers, mythological and legendary heroes, represented in
various attitudes with backgrounds of conventional clouds and mists,
interspersed with symbolical emblems. Many of the Kano saints and
heroes bear a striking resemblance to mediæval subjects, as they are
often represented rising from billowy cloud masses, robed in ethereal
draperies, and with heads encircled by the nimbus.

Beneath the brush of Motonobu, formal classicism melted. In this new
movement, says Kakuzo Okakura, “art fled from man to nature, and in the
purity of ink landscapes, in the graceful spray of bamboos and pines,
sought and found her asylum.”

Space will not permit a glance at the personnel of the many schools of
Japanese Art. A lengthy catalogue alone would be required to enumerate
the masters who inaugurated schools, for if an artist developed
exceptional talent in Japan, he immediately founded an individual
school, and it was incumbent upon his descendants for generations to
adhere rigidly to the principles he had inculcated, so becoming slaves
to traditional methods.

During the anarchy of the fourteenth century art stagnated in Japan,
but a revival, corresponding with our European Renaissance, followed.
The fifteenth century in Japan, as in Europe, was essentially the
age of revival. Wm. Anderson epitomizes in one pregnant phrase this
working power: “All ages of healthy human prosperity are more or less
revivals. A little study would probably show that the Ptolemaic era in
Egypt was a renaissance of the Theban age, in architecture as in other
respects, while the golden period of Augustus in Rome was largely a
Greek revival.” There seems ever to have been a reciprocal action in
Japanese Art. Tosa, famed for delicacy of touch, minutiæ of detail and
brilliance of colour, yielded to the black and white, vigorous force of
Kano. Kano again was modified by the glowing colouring introduced by
Kano Masanobu and Motonobu. Later we see the varied palette of Miyagawa
Choshun efface the monochromic simplicity of Moronobu, the ringleader
of the printers of Ukiyo-ye.

The leading light in art in the beginning of the fifteenth century was
Cho Densu, the Fra Angelico of Japan, who, a simple monk, serving in a
Kyoto temple, must in a trance of religious and artistic ecstasy have
beheld a spectrum of fadeless dyes, so wondrous were the colours he
lavished upon the draperies of his saints and sages. The splendour of
this beatific vision has never faded, for the masters who followed in
the footsteps of the inspired monk reverently preserved the secret of
these precious shades, till at last, in the form of the Ukiyo-ye print,
they were sown broadcast, and revolutionized the colour sense of the
art world.

It has been remarked that Japanese Art of the nineteenth century is
often nothing but a reproduction of the works of the ancient great
masters, and the methods and mannerisms of the fifteenth century
artists have ever served as examples for later students. The glory of
the fifteenth century was increased by Mitsunobu of Tosa, and above
all by the two great Kano artists, Masanobu and his son, Motonobu, who
received the title of “Hogen,” and is referred to as “Ko Hogen,” or the
ancient Hogen, of whom it has been remarked, “He filled the air with
luminous beams.”

By the close of the fifteenth century the principles of art in
Japan became definitely fixed, as, almost contemporaneously, Giotto
established a canon of art in Florence, which he, in turn, had received
from the Attic Greeks, through Cimabue, and which was condensed by
Ruskin into a grammar of art, under the term “Laws of Fésole.”

The two great schools, Tosa and Kano, flourished independently until
the middle of the eighteenth century, when the genius of the popular
artists, forming the school of Ukiyo-ye, gradually fused the traditions
of Tosa and Kano, absorbing the methods of these rival schools,—which,
differing in technique and motive, were united in their proud disdain
of the new art which dared to represent the manners and customs of the
common people. Harunobu and Hokusai, Kiyonaga and Hiroshige were the
crowning glory of all the schools,—the artists whose genius told the
story of their country, day by day, weaving a century of history into
one living encyclopedia, sumptuous in form, kaleidoscopic in colour.

Ukiyo-ye prepared Japan for intercourse with other nations by
developing in the common people an interest in other countries, in
science and foreign culture, and by promoting the desire to travel,
through the means of illustrated books of varied scenes. To Ukiyo-ye,
the Japanese owed the gradual expansion of international consciousness,
which culminated in the revolution of 1868,—a revolution, the most
astonishing in history, accomplished as if by miracle; but the esoteric
germ of this seemingly spontaneous growth of Meiji lay in the atelier
of the artists of Ukiyo-ye.

To trace the evolution of the Popular School in its development through
nearly three centuries is a lengthy study, of deep interest. The mists
of uncertainty gather about the lives of many apostles of Ukiyo-ye,
from the originator, Iwasa Matahei, to Hiroshige, one of the latest
disciples, whose changes of style and diversity of signature have given
rise to the supposition that as many as three artists are entitled to
the name. These mists of tradition cannot be altogether dispersed by
such indefatigable students as M. Louis Gonse, Professor Fenollosa, M.
Edmond de Goncourt, Wm. Anderson, John S. Happer and many others, but
by their aid the methods of Oriental Art are clarified and explained.

Iwasa Matahei, the date of whose birth is given as 1578, is considered
to be the originator of the Popular School. The spontaneous growth of
great movements and the mystery of the source of genius are illustrated
in the career of Matahei. His environment fitted him to follow in the
footsteps of his master, Mitsunori of Tosa. Yet the city of Kyoto,
veiled in mystic sanctity, where religion and princely patronage held
art in conventional shackles, gave birth to the leader of the Popular
School. Still, was not Kyoto, the sacred heart of Japan, a fit cradle
for Ukiyo-ye, the life and soul of the Japanese people?

Matahei and his followers entered into the spirit of the Japanese
temperament, and from the Popular School sprang liberty and a novelty
of horizon. The aristocratic schools had confined themselves to
representations of princely pageantry, to portraiture, and to ideal
pictures of mythical personages, saints and sages. The tradition
of China showed in all their landscapes, which reflected ethereal
vistas classically rendered, of an alien land. Therefore Matahei was
contemptuously disowned by Tosa for depicting scenes from the life of
his countrymen, yet the technique of Kano and Tosa were the birthright
of the artists of Ukiyo-ye, an inalienable inheritance in form, into
which they breathed the spirit of life, thus revivifying an art grown
cold and academical, and frosted with tradition. The colouring of Kano
had faded, tending continually toward monochrome, but the Ukiyo-ye
painters restored the use of gorgeous pigments, preserving the glory of
Kano Yeitoku, the court painter to Hideyoshi.

In the middle of the seventeenth century appeared Hishigawa Moronobu,
considered by many to be the real founder of Ukiyo-ye. His genius
welded with the new motif the use of the block for printing, an
innovation which led to the most characteristic development in
Ukiyo-ye art. This art of printing, which originated in China and
Corea, had, until the beginning of the seventeenth century, been
confined solely to the service of religion for the reproduction of
texts and images, but Moronobu conceived the idea of using the form of
printed book illustration, just coming into vogue, as a channel to set
forth the life of the people. Besides painting and illustrating books,
he began printing single sheets, occasionally adding to the printed
outlines dashes of colour from the brush, principally in orange and
green. These sheets, the precursors of the Ukiyo-ye prints, superseded
the _Otsu-ye_,—impressionistic hand-paintings, draughted hastily for
rapid circulation. The _Otsu-ye_ were sometimes richly illuminated, the
largest surfaces in the costumes being filled in with a ground of black
lacquer, and ornamented with layers of gold leaf attached by varnish.

Moronobu acquired his technique from both Tosa and Kano, but was
originally a designer for the rich brocades and tissues woven in Kyoto.
He added to this art that of embroidery, and leaving Kyoto, took up
this branch at the rival city Yedo, where all the arts and crafts
were developing under the fostering care of the Tokugawa Shoguns, the
dynasty with which Ukiyo-ye art is practically co-extensive. It was
Hishigawa Moronobu who designed for his countrywomen their luxurious
trailing robes, with enormous sleeves, richly embroidered,—gorgeous
and stately garments which he loved to reproduce on paper, with
marvellous powers of sweeping line. As in all fashions of dress, in
time the graceful lines became exaggerated until, in the beginning of
the nineteenth century, they overstepped the limits of beauty, and
approached the realm of caricature. Today, in the modern poster, we
see perpetuated the degenerate offspring of the genius of Moronobu, of
whom it is remarked that his enlarged compositions have the plasticity
of bas-reliefs.

An artist who greatly influenced Moronobu was Tanyu, of the School of
Kano, whose masterpiece may be seen at the great temple in Kyoto,—four
painted panels of lions, of indescribable majesty. M. Louis Gonse
tells us that one of Tanyu’s kakemonos, belonging to a celebrated
French painter, well sustains the test of comparison with its companion
pictures, in the artist’s studio, by Durer, Rembrandt and Rubens. Under
Tanyu’s direction the task of reproducing the old masterpieces was
undertaken. The artists of Ukiyo-ye were ever ready to profit by the
teaching of all the schools; therefore, properly to follow the methods
of the Popular School, we must study the work of the old masters and
the subjects from which they derived their inspiration.

In this brief resumé we cannot follow the fluctuations of Japanese
Art through the centuries. During long periods of conflict and bloody
internecine strife, art languished; when peace reigned, then in the
seclusion of their _yashikis_ these fierce and princely warriors threw
down their arms and surrendered themselves to the service of beauty and
of art. Nor had the dainty inmates of their castles languished idly
during these stirring times. Often they defended their honour and their
homes against treacherous neighbours. It was a Japanese woman who led
her conquering countrymen into Corea. In the arts of peace the cultured
women of Japan kept pace with their lovers and husbands. A woman
revised and enlarged the alphabet, and some of the most beautiful
classic poems are ascribed to them. Well might the Japanese fight
fiercely for his altar and home, with the thought of the flower-soft
hands that were waiting to strip him of his armour and stifle with
caresses the recollection of past conflict. The early history of Japan
suggests a comparison with ancient Greece, and the Japanese poets might
have apostrophized their country, as did Byron the land of his adoption:

  “The isles of Greece, the isles of Greece!
      Where burning Sappho loved and sung,
  Where grew the arts of war and peace,—
      Where Delos rose, and Phœbus sprung!”

Happily Japan, unlike Greece, withstood the enervating influences of
luxury and the passionate adoration of beauty. Princes laboured alike
with chisel and with brush, and the loftiest rulers disdained not the
tool of the artisan. Art Industrial kissed Grand Art, which remained
virile beneath the sturdy benediction. Therefore Japan lives, unlike
Greece, whose beauty in decay called forth that saddest of dirges,

  “’Tis Greece, but living Greece no more.”

In Japan, art lightens the burden of labour, utility and beauty go hand
in hand, and the essential and the real reach upward, and touch the
beautiful and the ideal.


                  The Golden Era of Romance and Art.

The Nen-go of Genroku, from 1688 to 1703, was that period of
incomparable glory which the Japanese revere as the French do the time
of Louis the Fourteenth. Peace had long reigned and art flourished
under the fostering care of the Tokugawa Shoguns.

Then lived the great worker in lacquer, Korin, pupil of Sotatsu, the
flower painter, unrivalled artists who had absorbed the secrets of both
Kano and Tosa. Itcho, the grand colourist, flourished, and Kenzan,
brother of Korin, the “Exponent in pottery decoration of the Korin

Yedo, the new capital of the usurping Tokugawas, now became the
Mecca of genius, rivalling the ancient metropolis Kyoto, for the
great Shoguns encouraged art in all forms, not disdaining to enroll
themselves as pupils to the masters in painting and lacquer. The
greatest ruler became one of the greatest artists, even assuming the
art title of Sendai Shogun. In this age the height of perfection was
reached in metal work, both chased and cast.

“The sword is the soul of the Samurai,” says the old Japanese motto,
therefore its decoration and adornment was a sacred service to which
genius delighted to dedicate itself. In Japan the greatest artists
were sometimes carvers and painters and workers in metals in one, and
suggest comparison with the European masters of two centuries earlier.
Did not Botticelli take his name from the goldsmith for whom he worked,
and Leonardo da Vinci began his art life by “twisting metal screens
for the tombs of the Medici”? Later we see him playing before his
patron, Francesco, in Milan, upon that weird silver harp he had himself
constructed, till at last, perfected in art, he projected upon canvas
the Mona Lisa, that “realization of strange thoughts and fantastic
reveries and exquisite passions.”

Also in Japan, as in Europe, the genius of the nation was consecrated
to the dead. More than half of Michelangelo’s life was devoted to the
decoration of tombs, and the shrines of the Shoguns are the greatest
art monuments in Japan. Preoccupation with graves perhaps enabled the
Japanese to face death so readily, even embracing it upon the slightest

Genroku was the acme of the age of chivalry. Its tales of deadly duels
and fierce vendettas are the delight of the nation. The history of the
Forty-seven Ronin equals any mediæval tale of bloodthirsty vengeance
and feudal devotion. This Japanese vendetta of the seventeenth century
is still re-enacted upon the stage, and remains the most popular drama
of the day, and the actor designers of Torii ever delighted in it as
a subject for illustration. A brief outline of the story may be of
interest and serve to recall its charming interpretation by Mitford.

The cause of this famous drama of vendetta was the avarice of
Kotsuki-no-Suke, a courtier of the Shogun at Yedo who might have served
as prototype for “Pooh Bah,” in Gilbert’s clever burlesque. This
pompous official was detailed to receive at his castle and instruct in
court etiquette two provincial noblemen, to whom had been assigned the
onerous task of entertaining the Mikado’s envoy from Kyoto. In return
for this tutelage they duly sent many gifts to Kotsuki-no-Suke, but
not costly enough to gratify the rapacity of the Gilbertian minister,
who day by day became more insufferably arrogant, not having been
“sufficiently insulted.”

Then a counsellor of one of these great lords, being wise in his
generation, and fearing for his master’s safety, rode at midnight
to the castle of the greedy official, leaving a present or bribe of
a thousand pieces of silver. This generous donation had the desired

“You have come early to court, my lord,” was the suave welcome the
unconscious nobleman received the next morning. “I shall have the
honour of calling your attention to several points of etiquette today.”
The next moment the countenance of Kotsuki-no-Suke clouded, and,
turning haughtily toward his other pupil from whom no largesse had been
received, he cried, “Here, my lord of Takumi, be so good as to tie
for me the ribbon of my sock,” adding under his breath, “boor of the

“Stop, my lord!” cried Takumi-no-Kami, and, drawing his dirk, he flung
it at the insolent nobleman’s head. Then a great tumult arose. His
court cap had saved from death Kotsuki-no-Suke, and he fled from the
spot, whilst Takumi-no-Kami was arrested, and to divert the disgrace of
being beheaded, hastily performed hari-kiri; his goods and castle were
confiscated and his retainers became Ronin (literally “Wave Men”), cast
adrift to follow their fortunes, roving at will.

The vendetta, sworn to and carried out by these forty-seven faithful
servants, is the sequel of the story. Oishi Kuranosuki, the chief
of the Ronin, planned the scheme of revenge. To put Kotsuki-no-Suke
off his guard, the band dispersed, many of them under the disguise of
workmen taking service in the _yashiki_ of their enemy in order to
become familiar with the interior of the fortification.

Meanwhile Kuranosuki, to further mislead his enemies, plunged into
a life of wild dissipation, until Kotsuki-no-Suke, hearing of his
excesses, relaxed his own vigilance, only keeping half the guard he had
at first appointed. The wife and friends of Kuranosuki were greatly
grieved at his loose conduct, for he took nobody into his confidence.
Even a man from Satsuma, seeing him lying drunk in the open street,
dared to kick his body, muttering, “Faithless beast, thou givest
thyself up to women and wine, thou art unworthy of the name of a

But Kuranosuki endured the contumely, biding his time, and at last, in
the winter of the following year, when the ground was white with snow,
the carefully planned assault was successfully attempted. The castle
of Kotsuki-no-Suke was taken, but what was the consternation of the
brave Ronin, when, after a prolonged search, they failed to discover
their victim! In despair, they were about to despatch themselves, in
accordance with their severe code of honour, when Kuranosuki, pushing
aside a hanging picture, discovered a secret courtyard. There, hidden
behind some sacks of charcoal, they found their enemy, and dragged him
out, trembling with cold and terror, clad in his costly nightrobe of
embroidered white satin. Then humbly kneeling, Oishi Kuranosuki thus
addressed him: “My lord, we beseech you to perform Seppuku (happy
despatch). I shall have the honour to act as your lordship’s second,
and when, with all humility, I shall have received your lordship’s
head, it is my intention to lay it as an offering upon the grave of our
master, Asano-Takumi-no-Kami.” Unfortunately, the carefully planned
programme of the Ronin failed to recommend itself to Kotsuki-no-Suke,
and he declined their polite invitation to disembowel himself,
whereupon Kuranosuki at one stroke cut off the craven head, with the
blade used by his master in taking his own life.

So in solemn procession the Forty-seven Ronin, bearing their enemy’s
head, approached the Temple of Sengakuji, where they were met by the
abbot of the monastery, who led them to their master’s tomb. There,
after washing in water, they laid it, thus accomplishing the vendetta;
then praying for decent burial and for masses, they took their own

Thus ended the tragic story, and visitors to the temple are still shown
the receipt given by the retainers of the son of Kotsuki-no-Suke for
the head of their lord’s father, returned to them by the priest of
Sengakuji. Surely it is one of the weirdest relics to take in one’s
hand, this memorandum, the simple wording of which but adds to its

Item—One head.

Item—One paper parcel, and then the signatures of the two retainers

Another manuscript is also shown, in which the Ronin addressed their
departed lord, laying it upon his tomb. It is translated thus by

“The fifteenth year of Genroku, the twelfth month, and fifteenth day.
We have come this day to do homage here, forty-seven men in all, from
Oishi Kuranosuki, down to the foot soldier, Terasaka Kichiyemon, all
cheerfully about to lay down our lives on your behalf. We reverently
announce this to the honoured spirit of our dead master. On the
fourteenth day of the third month of last year our honoured master was
pleased to attack Kira-Kotsuki-no-Suke, for what reason we know not.
Our honoured master put an end to his own life, but Kotsuki-no-Suke
lived. Although we fear that after the decree issued by the Government,
this plot of ours will be displeasing to our master, still we who have
eaten of your food could not without blushing repeat the verse, ‘Thou
shalt not live under the same heaven nor tread the same earth with the
enemy of thy father or lord,’ nor could we have dared to leave hell and
present ourselves before you in paradise, unless we had carried out the
vengeance which you began. Every day that we waited seemed as three
autumns to us. Verily we have trodden the snow for one day, nay for two
days, and have tasted food but once. The old and decrepit, the sick and
ailing, have come forth gladly to lay down their lives. Having taken
counsel together last night, we have escorted my lord, Kotsuki-no-Suke,
hither to your tomb. This dirk by which our honoured lord set great
store last year, and entrusted to our care, we now bring back. If your
noble spirit be now present before this tomb, we pray you as a sign to
take the dirk, and striking the head of your enemy with it a second
time to dispel your hatred forever. This is the respectful statement of
forty-seven men.”

There were forty-seven Ronin. Why, then, do forty-eight tomb-stones
stand beneath the cedars at Sengakuji? Truly the answer has caused
tears to fall from the eyes of many a visiting pilgrim, for the
forty-eighth tomb holds the body of the Satsuma man, who in an agony of
grief and remorse ended his life, and was buried beside the hero, whose
body he had scornfully trampled upon in the streets of sacred Kyoto.

This history of the Forty-seven Ronin is an epitome of Japanese ethics,
for in it is exemplified their feudal devotion, their severe code
of honour, their distorted vision of duty and fealty to a superior,
justifying the most lawless acts. Thus the conduct of Kuranosuki during
his wild year of reckless abandonment, in which he threw off all moral
restraint in order to deceive his enemy, breaking the heart of his
faithful and devoted wife, was considered by his countrymen meritorious
and a proof of his devotion. The Ukiyo-ye artists, who loved to take
for models the beautiful denizens of the “Under World,” chose this
obsession of Kuranosuki as the subject for many of their illustrations,
so that at a first glance the series might almost be mistaken for
scenes from the life of the Yoshiwara.

Here and there, however, we come across the Ronin engaged in terrific
conflict with Kotsuki-no-Suke’s retainers. Cruel and bloodthirsty are
the blades of their relentless katanas, which once unsheathed must be
slaked in human blood, and their garments, slashed into stiletto-like
points of inky blackness, forming a _chevaux de frise_ round their
fierce faces, seem scintillant with the spirit of vendetta.

In examining the sets of impressions, illustrating the popular story,
it is hard to give preference to any special artist: to choose
between the Utamaro-like violets and greens of Yeisen; the rich
dark tints and fine backgrounds of Kunisada; the delicately massed
detail of Toyokuni, unlike the usual boldness of his style, and the
varied sword-play of the versatile Hiroshige, set in a frosted, snowy
landscape. Hokusai, who abjured theatrical subjects after breaking away
from the tutelage of Shunsho, published a series of prints illustrating
the famous vendetta, but as his great-grandfather had been a retainer
of Kotsuki-no-Suke, losing his life during the midnight attack, the
story formed part of his ancestral history. The series is signed Kako,
and the sweeping lines and contours of the female figures show the
Kiyonaga influence. Yellow preponderates, outlining the buildings and
long interior vistas, and the impressions are framed with a singular
convention of Hokusai at that period, drifting cloud effects in
delicate pink. Utamaro also illustrated the story, substituting for the
Ronin the forms of women, a favourite conceit of the artist of beauty.

This digression in favour of the masters of the Popular School has
carried us over a hundred years, and we must return to the close of
the seventeenth century. Moronobu illustrated the carnival of Genroku,
but toward the end of the century, under the domination of a Shogun
who combined the qualities of extravagance and profligacy with the
delirious superstition of a Louis the Eleventh, a period of unbridled
license set in. The military men, who were the nation’s models,
forgot their fine traditions and fell from their estate, so that the
latter manners and customs of Genroku became a by-word. Then followed
a puritanical reaction. Under the eighth Shogun, the knights were
restricted from attending the theatre, just coming into favour, and the
looser haunts of pleasure were strictly under ban. The Ukiyo-ye print,
being the medium for illustrating these joys and pleasures, forbidden
to the great, but still indulged in by the people, was strictly
condemned, and to this day the aristocracy of Japan accord but grudging
and unwilling recognition to the merits of the masters of Ukiyo-ye, the
old caste prejudice still blinding their artistic sense.

At this stage Ukiyo-ye broke into rival schools, the founders of both
belonging to the academy of Hishigawa Moronobu. The leader of the
first, the school of painting, was Miyagawa Choshun, who in order to
preserve aristocratic patronage and praise, eschewed the use of the
printing-block, still taking his subjects from the “floating world,”
and so being in one sense at unity with the other branch, that of
printing founded by Kiyonobu, the first master of the great Torii
School. As the Print artists are our subject matter we cannot follow
the other branch of Ukiyo-ye, founded by Miyagawa Choshun, but leaving
the atelier of the painters, we must devote ourselves to the fortunes
of the Torii School, the laboratory of the Ukiyo-ye print, working
parallel with the pictorial school for the first half of the eighteenth

The first sheets of Kiyonobu (about 1710), the founder of the Torii
School, were printed in ink from a single block. Part of the edition
would be issued in this uncoloured form, the rest being coloured by
hand. The colours most used were olive and orange, these prints being
called _Tan-ye_, whilst those in ink were named _Sumi-ye_. Urishi-ye
(lacquer pictures), was the generic term for hand-painted prints.
_Beni-ye_ (literally red pictures), followed the Urishi-ye. They were
printed in two tones, rose and pale green, enforced by black, a harmony
exquisite in delicacy. The use of the multiple colour blocks gave rise
to the title _Nishiki-ye_, or brocade paintings. The national mania for
the stage induced Kiyonobu and his followers to take for their subjects
popular actors, and the theatrical poster may be said to date from the
decade following Genroku.

Later in the century the process of colour-printing by the substitution
of blocks for flat colours was gradually evolved, and to no special
artist or engraver can the credit be given, for all contributed to its
development, though the genius of Suzuki Harunobu drew to a focus in
1765 the achievements of his brother artists, and it was he who solved
the problem of uniting the skill of the engraver with the full palette
of Miyagawa Choshun and his follower Shunsui, thus uniting the two
branches of Ukiyo-ye art.

The Popular School, however, is bound up with print development.
Japanese book illustration and single-sheet printing revolutionized the
world’s art. The great connoisseurs of colour tell us that nowhere else
is anything like it, so rich and so full, that a print comes to have
every quality of a complete painting.

The other leaders of the Torii School were Torii Kiyomasu and Okumura
Masanobu, namesake of the great founder of Kano, who must not be
confounded with the later artist of the same name, belonging to the
school of Kitao. Masanobu deserves special mention, for his style being
chiefly pictorial, and his subjects not confined to the stage, he
formed a link between the painter’s atelier and his own.

 [Illustration: An illustration from “The Occupations of Women.” By
 Suzuki Harunobu, who, though a worker in prints, styled himself
 “Yamato Yeshi,” the title assigned to the great court painters.]

He realized that book prints rather than actor prints ought to be the
most potent force of Ukiyo-ye.

Shigenaga followed in the footsteps of Masanobu, but his fame is
eclipsed by that of his great pupil Harunobu, whose genius was
displayed not only by the introduction of new colours upon the
printing-block, but by his schemes of arrangement, juxtaposition of
shades, and marvellous handling of the areas between the printed
outlines. This restriction of measured spaces does not cramp the
painter’s individuality and sweep of brush; rather, they set him free
to concentrate his genius upon blended harmonies, and interwoven
schemes of colour, and to surrender himself to the intoxication of the

Suzuki Harunobu revolutionized the status of the Popular School,
pronouncing this dictum, “Though I am a worker in prints I shall
hereafter style myself ‘Yamato Yeishi,’” the title assumed by the
ancient court painters. A national painter he declared himself, let
him deny who dare, working through the new medium of the despised and
ostracized Ukiyo-ye print from which he determined to remove the stigma
of vulgarity.

Now we see a strange transposition in the aims of the popular artists.
Harunobu, though a pupil of Shigenaga, the printer, took for his models
the subjects of the painter Shunsui, successor to Miyagawa Choshun, and
by rejecting stage motives discarded the Torii tradition. From Shunsui,
Harunobu borrowed the ineffable grace and refinement which breathe from
the forms of his women, from the painter he stole colour harmonies and
designs with landscape backgrounds, which the Torii School had hitherto
ignored. The introduction of genre painting, though attributed by
Walter Pater to Giorgione, applies equally to the work of Harunobu
and his follower Koriusai. “He is the inventor of genre, of those
easily movable pictures which serve neither for uses of devotion nor
of allegorical or historical teaching: little groups of real men and
women, amid congruous furniture or landscape, morsels of actual life,
conversation or music or play, refined upon and idealized till they
come to seem like glimpses of life from afar. People may move those
spaces of cunningly blent colour readily and take them with them where
they go, like a poem in manuscript, or a musical instrument, to be used
at will as a means of self-education, stimulus or solace, coming like
an animated presence into one’s cabinet, and like persons live with us
for a day or a lifetime.” Must not such an influence have descended
upon Whistler when, saturated with the atmosphere of Hiroshige, he
imagined that most beautiful of his “Nocturnes” described by Theodore
Child as “a vision in form and colour, in luminous air, a Japanese
fancy realized on the banks of the gray Thames”?

                         The School of Torii.

                   The Printers’ Branch of Ukiyo-ye.

The Torii School was pre-eminently the exponent of the drama. It
was bound up with stage development and ministered to the emotional
temperament of the nation; leading in what may be considered a national
obsession, a mania for actors and actor-prints.

A fascinating subject is this century of dramatic evolution fostered
by the printers’ branch of the Popular School. The actor had been
consigned, in dark feudal days, to the lowest rung in the ladder of
caste, ranking next to the outcast (_Eta_), as in early English days
the strolling player was associated with tinkers and the other vagrant

The _No Kagura_ and lyric drama,—suggesting the mediæval and passion
plays of Europe,—prefigured the modern drama in Japan, but the
immediate precursor of the present theatre was the Puppet Show, a
Japanese apotheosis of our Marionette performances. It is interesting
to note that Toyokuni, who M. Louis Gonse declared has carried further
than any one the power of mimetic art, and with whose theatrical scenes
we are most familiar, began his career as a maker of dolls, and these
puppets were eagerly sought for as works of art.

If the aphorism “not to go to the theatre is like making one’s toilet
without a mirror,” be true, then the Japanese are justified in their
national stage passion, which overshadows the love of any other
amusement. Taking the phrase literally, it was to the persons of the
actors, and the printers who spread their pictures broadcast, that the
people owed the æsthetic wonders of their costume. The designers were
also artists, as instanced by Hishigawa Moronobu, the Kyoto designer
and Yedo embroiderer, the printer and painter, illustrator of books and
originator of Ukiyo-ye.

Enthusiasm for the portraits of actors, fostered by the Torii printers
from the foundation of the school by Kiyonobu, about 1710, hastened
no doubt the development of colour-printing. As early as Genroku, the
portrait of Danjuro, the second of the great dynasty of actors, who by
their genius helped to brighten the fortunes of the playhouse, was sold
for five cash, in the streets of the capital.

The combined genius of the artists, engravers and printers of Ukiyo-ye
evolved and perfected the use of the multiple colour-block. Toward the
middle of the century, under the waning powers of Torii Kiyomitsu,
successor to Kiyonobu, the school seemed sinking into oblivion, for
Harunobu, its rightful exponent, filled with visions of ethereal
refinement, scorned the theatrical arena. When most needed, however,
a prophet arose in the person of Shunsho, the painter, the pupil of
Shunsui and master of Hokusai, thus completing the transformation
begun by Harunobu. The great scions of the rival branches of Ukiyo-ye,
printing and painting, stepped into each other’s places and bridged the
chasm, which threatened the unity of the Popular School.

Both branches were united, however, in the use of the multiple
colour-blocks, but although Shunsho followed Harunobu’s experiments in
colouring, varying his actor designs with domestic scenes and book
illustrations, Harunobu resolutely refused to portray the life of the
stage, and in this determination he was followed by his pupil and
successor, Koriusai.

About the year 1765, the art of printing colours, by the use of
individual blocks, technically called chromo-xylography, was perfected.
It is an interesting reflection, from the standpoint of Buddhism,—which
teaches that in the fullness of time, the great masters in religion,
art and learning become reincarnated upon earth, for the benefit of
humanity, that at this period Hokusai was born, the crowning glory and
master of Ukiyo-ye. Had he appeared earlier in the century, his genius
might have been diverted to the technical development of printing, and
the world thus been the loser of his creative flights.

Professor Fenollosa beautifully defines the inception of the Ukiyo-ye
print as “the meeting of two wonderfully sympathetic surfaces,—the
un-sandpapered grain of the cherry-wood block, and a mesh in the paper,
of little pulsating vegetable tentacles. Upon the one, colour can be
laid almost dry, and to the other it may be transferred by a delicacy
of personal touch that leaves only a trace of tint balancing lightly
upon the tips of the fibres. And from the interstices of these printed
tips, the whole luminous heart of the paper wells up from within,
diluting the pigment with a soft golden sunshine. In the Japanese print
we have flatness combined with vibration.”

To the connoisseur, one of the most important considerations, scarcely
secondary to that of colouring, in the selection of Ukiyo-ye gems, is
this vibratory quality, depending equally upon the texture of the
paper and the magnetic pressure of the master printer’s fingers. This
characteristic seems to have vanished from the modern print, and cannot
be imitated, though the enthusiasm for fine specimens has flooded the
market with spurious antiques, deceptive to the uninitiated. In the
exquisite reproductions of the early Ukiyo-ye prints and paintings now
being issued,—though a joy to the student unable to acquaint himself
with the originals,—this ineffable effect of vibration is lost,
probably owing to the substitution of a less sympathetic medium than
the luminous vehicle of the early impressions.

The actual process of wood-cutting seems a simple art, but a close
study of the making of prints will show the consummate skill required
to produce them. The artist’s design was transferred by tracing
paper, then pasted on to the face of the wood block, and the white
space hollowed out with a knife and small gouges. After the block had
been inked, a sheet of damp paper was laid upon it, and the back of
the paper was then rubbed with a flat rubber till the impression was
uniformly transferred. Where more than one block was employed, as in
colour-printing, the subsequent impressions were registered by marks
made at the corners of the paper. The colouring matter laid upon these
early blocks was extracted by mysterious processes from sources unknown
to the Western world, which, alas! by supplying the Eastern market
with cheap pigments, led to the deterioration of art in this essential

From 1765 to 1780 the school of Ukiyo-ye was dominated by four great
artists and creators of separate styles: Harunobu, succeeded by
Koriusai, taking for motive the subjects of Shunsui; Shunsho of
Katsukawa (changed by Shunsui from its former title of Miyagawa),
upon whose shoulders had fallen the mantle of the Torii; Shigemasa,
working upon Shunsho’s lines, but breaking into a rival academy, the
Kitao; Toyoharu, pupil of old Torii Toyonobu, founder of the school of
Utagawa, whose most illustrious pupil was Toyokuni, the doll-maker,
and brother of Toyohiro, Hiroshige’s master. (Kunisada, noted for his
backgrounds, succeeded Toyokuni, and after the death of his master
signed himself Toyokuni the Second.)

Shunsho is considered one of the greatest artists of Japan, both as
an inventor and powerful colourist. M. Louis Gonse says: “All the
collections of coloured prints which are today the delight of the
tea-houses; all the fine compositions showing magnificent landscapes
and sumptuous interiors; all those figures of actors with heroic
gestures and impassive faces behind the grinning masks, and with
costumes striking and superb,—came originally from the atelier of
Katsukawa Shunsho, who had for a time the monopoly of them.” While
the Torii artists were beguiling the Yedo populace with theatrical
portraiture, and aiding the growing tendency toward cosmopolitanism
by issuing printed albums, books of travel and encyclopedias, art was
also expanding at the ancient capital, Kyoto. Sukenobu, the prolific
artist, was bringing out beautifully illustrated books, and Okio,
from sketching on the earth with bamboo sticks, while following his
father and mother to their work in the fields, had risen to be the
great founder of the Maruyama school of painting, and the Shijo or
naturalistic school was named from the street in which was the studio
of the master.

The Popular School, aided by Okio, effected a revolution in the laws
of painting at Kyoto, for the Torii artists forsook their academic
methods, painting birds, flowers, grass, quadrupeds, insects and fishes
from nature. Okio’s name ranks high among the great masters of Japanese
art, of whom so many fanciful legends are told. The charming artist
with brush and pen, John La Farge, says: “As the fruit painted by the
Greek deceived the birds, and the curtain painted by the Greek painter
deceived his fellow-artist, so the horses of Kanaoka have escaped
from their kakemonos, and the tigers sculptured in the lattices of
temples have been known to descend at night and rend one another in the

Then the story is told of a moonlight picture, which, when unrolled,
filled a dark room with light. A pretty legend of Tanyu, the great Kano
artist, and the crabs at Enryaku Temple, is given by Adachi Kinnotsuke.
Upon one panel of the _fusuma_, or paper screen, is seen a crab,
marvellously realistic, only with claws invisible. On the other panels
the artist had painted its companions, and at the bidding of his patron
furnished them with claws. “Nevertheless,” the master declared, “I warn
you that if I give these crabs claws they will surely crawl out of the
picture.” As the visitor glances from the wonderful counterfeit crab
to the four empty panels beside it, he knows the old master had only
spoken the truth.

 [Illustration: Under the Cherry Blooms. By Kiyonaga, the regenerator
 of Torii, whose classic figures recall, in their dignity and
 simplicity, the methods of the early Italian master.]

And so with Okio. He breathed into his pictures the breath of life.
His animals live, and his flights of storks swoop across the great
kakemonos, each bird with an individuality of its own, though one of a
multitude of flying companions. To view Okio aright, we should see him
at home in his own environment, not in Europe, where so many copies of
his masterpieces abound. John La Farge gives us a glimpse of an Okio,
fitly set, framed in oriental magnificence, in the Temple of Iyemitsu
at Nikko: “All within was quiet, in a golden splendour. Through the
small openings of the black and gold gratings a faint light from below
left all the golden interior in a summer shade, within which glittered
on golden tables the golden utensils of the Buddhist ceremonial. The
narrow passage makes the center, through whose returning walls project,
in a curious refinement of invention, the golden eaves of the inner
building beyond. Gratings, which were carved, and gilded trellises of
exquisite design, gave a cool, uncertain light. An exquisite feeling of
gentle solemnity filled the place. In the corridor facing the mountain
and the tomb, a picture hangs on the wall. It is by Okio. Kuwannon, the
Compassionate, sits in contemplation beside the descending stream of

About 1775 arose a legitimate successor to the school of Torii in
the adopted son of Kiyomitsu, Kiyonaga. He discarded the theatrical
tradition of his school, but the boldness of his drawing was foreign to
the style of Harunobu. “His brush had a superhuman power and swing.”
He rivalled the three great masters, Koriusai, Shigemasa, founder of
Kitao, and Toyoharu of Utagawa, and the masters of Ukiyo-ye, forsaking
their individual predilections, flocked to his studio.

The simplicity and dignity of the early Italian masters, sought after
and adored by the pre-Raphaelite brotherhood, their noble lines and
contours, are again realized in the panels of Kiyonaga. Professor
Fenollosa said that “classic” is the instinctive term to apply to
Kiyonaga, and that his figures at their best may be placed side by side
with Greek vase painting. Ideally beautiful is the fall of his drapery,
determining the lines of the figure in the fewest possible folds. In
indoor scenes he almost rivalled Harunobu, but he loved best to paint
in the open air. In imagination we see Kiyonaga, the lover of beauty,
gazing at the wealth of lotus blooms which fill the moats of feudal
Yedo, and in the crucible of his fancy transmuting them into the forms
of women. The lotus, of all flowers, has the deepest art significance,
and is the oldest motive. The author of “Greek Lines,” Henry Van
Brunt, said: “The lotus perpetually occurs in oriental mythology as
the sublime and hallowed symbol of the productive power of nature. The
Hindu and the Egyptian instinctively elevated it to the highest and
most cherished place in their Pantheons.”

It is the flower of religion, of beauty, and of love. From the ocean
the Hindu Aphrodite, Lachsmi, ascended. Isis in Egypt reigned, crowned
by the lotus, and there the tender, flowing lines became sublime,
monumental, fitted to symbolize death and eternal repose. In Japan its
joyous curves represent life, immortality, and, delicately sensuous,
they conjure up visions of ideal beauty. The lotus, sweetly blooming
before the artist’s eye, expanded into a vision of fair women, whose
lissom forms he clothed with swirls of drapery. And the women of Japan,
enamoured of these enchanting poses, endeavoured to assume the curves
of Kiyonaga, sheathing their delicate limbs in silken draperies, and
simulating in their enchanting slenderness the stems of flowers—or,
to borrow a beautiful simile from Lafcadio Hearn, “looking like a
beautiful silver moth robed in the folding of its own wings.”

It is said that every Japanese actor-print was a potential poster, and,
alas! the fashion-plate is endeavouring to mold itself upon the most
exaggerated type of the degenerate offspring of the genius of the Torii

The Japanese woman, with her untrammelled form arrayed in draperies
designed by consummate artists, may dare to follow classic
Kiyonaga—youth and grace may acquire oriental plasticity. But let
fashion rest there. Pitiful and ludicrously futile is the effort of
embonpoint to attain sinuosity. Lines of beauty cannot be manufactured;
as well imagine the slender stem of the lotus encircled in steel, its
curves determined by a multiplicity of wires and tapes.

Although the leaders of Ukiyo-ye followed so closely in the footsteps
of Kiyonaga that his type of face stamps the years from 1780 to 1790,
yet his style was too classic, too noble to suit the taste of the Yedo
populace, which, in its thirst for realism, had become depraved. Rather
than lower his standard he chose to resign, leaving the field to his
followers, Yeishi, Utamaro and Toyokuni. These masters, at first as
dignified in their method as Kiyonaga, now yielded to the public craze
for the exaggerated, the abnormal and grotesque. It was an apotheosis
of ugliness and vulgarity, a “Zolaism in prints.”

Coarse pictures of actors, masquerading in female dress, replaced the
charming little domestic women of Harunobu and Koriusai,—the ladies of
Japan, as we see them in reality,—and the noble figures of Kiyonaga.
Gigantic courtesans, bizarre and fantastic, with delirious headgear,
took the place of Shunsho’s fair children of the “Underworld,” who, in
the modesty of their mien, seemed to belie the calling they so often
deplored, as the songs of the Yoshiwara testify, plaintively sung to
the syncopated rhythm of the samisen, tinkling through the summer

The school of Ukiyo-ye was sinking into obscurity, when Hiroshige
and Hokusai appeared, two children of light, dispersing the gloom:
Hiroshige, the versatile painter, lover of landscape and ethereal
artist of snow and mist; Hokusai, the prophet, and regenerator of
Ukiyo-ye. He was the artisan-artist, in the land which recognizes no
inferior arts, and the Mang-wa, consisting of studies as spontaneously
thrown off as those in the sketch-book Giorgione carried in his girdle,
was published for the use of workmen. Living in simplicity and poverty
he gave his life to the people, and the impression of his genius is
stamped upon their work. A true handicraftsman was Hokusai,—the Mang-wa
a dictionary of the arts and crafts, as well as the inspired vehicle
of art. In it “balance, rhythm and harmony, the modes in which Beauty
is revealed, both in nature and art,” were manifested,—for he was a
vital artist, laying bare the enigma of evolution, and the mystery of

 [Illustration: The Actor Kikugoro. By Toyokuni I, the great
 Actor-Designer and Master of Mimetic Art.]


                  Le Fondateur de L’École de la Vie.

The above title is quoted from the work of M. Edmond de Goncourt, “as
one having authority,” there being many claimants to the leadership of
Ukiyo-ye (the floating world), the Popular School of Japanese Art. In
the life of Utamaro, M. de Goncourt, in exquisite language and with
analytical skill, has interpreted for us the meaning of that form of
Japanese art which found its chief expression in the use of the wooden
block for colour-printing, and to glance appreciatively at the work of
both artist and author is the motive of this sketch.

The Ukiyo-ye print, despised by the haughty Japanese aristocracy,
became the vehicle of art for the common people of Japan, and the
names of the artists who aided in its development are familiarly
quoted in every studio, whilst the classic painters of “Tosa” and
“Kano” are comparatively rarely mentioned. The consensus of opinion
in Japan during the lifetime of Utamaro agrees with the verdict of
M. de Goncourt. No artist was more popular. His atelier was besieged
by editors giving orders, and in the country his works were eagerly
sought after, when those of his famous contemporary, Toyokuni, were but
little known. In the “Barque of Utamaro,” a famous surimono, the title
of which forms a pretty play upon words, _maro_ being the Japanese
for vessel, the seal of supremacy is set upon the artist. Here he is
represented as holding court in a gaily decorated barge, surrounded by
a bevy of beauty paying homage to his genius. He was essentially the
painter of women, and though M. de Goncourt sets forth his astonishing
versatility, he yet entitles his work, “Outamaro, le Peintre des
Maisons Vertes.”

The beautiful inhabitants of these celebrated houses of the Yoshiwara
(the flower quarter) of Yedo had ever been sought as models by
the artists of Ukiyo-ye. But, alas! the sensuous poetic-artistic
temperament of Utamaro, undisciplined and uncontrolled, led to his
undoing. The pleasure-loving artist, recognizing no creed but the
worship of beauty, refusing to be bound by any fetters but those of
fancy, fell at last into the lowest depths of degradation, physical
and moral. And this debasement of their leader, tainting his art, was
reflected in the work of his brother artists and hastened the decadence
of the Popular School.

To understand the influences which sapped the self-control of the
gay and beauty-loving Utamaro, we have only to glance at the text by
Jipensha Ikkou of “The Annuary of the Green Houses,” two volumes of
prints in colour, so marvellously beautiful that they caused the artist
to be recognized as, in a sense, the official painter of the Yoshiwara.
The writer thus sums up the fatal fascination of the inmates, the
courtesans of highest rank, who alone were depicted by Utamaro. “The
daughters of the Yoshiwara are brought up like princesses. From
infancy they are given the most finished education” (from the Japanese
standpoint, be it observed). “They are taught reading, writing, art,
music, _le thé_, _le parfum_” (in the game of scents, the art is to
guess by inhaling the odour of burning perfumes the secret of their
composition). “Their entourage is that of princesses, brought up in the
seclusion of the palace. Coming from all parts of the ‘Land of the
Rising Sun,’ they must discard their individual patois and learn to
speak the archaic tongue, slightly modified, the poetical, the noble
language of the court from the seventeenth to the nineteenth century.”

In the home of the celebrated Tsutaya Juzabro, who edited the most
beautiful books of the time, in his early impressionable youth
lived Utamaro, within a stone’s throw of the great gate leading
to the Yoshiwara. By day he devoted himself to his art, by night
he surrendered himself to the fatal enchantment of that brilliant
“Underworld,” until, like Merlin, ensnared by Vivian, with the charm of
“woven paces and waving hands,” his art sapped by excesses, he became
“lost to life, and use, and name, and fame.”

Let us, forgetting this sad sequel, glance at the works which testify
to the life of high artistic endeavour led by Utamaro in the early part
of his career. In the preface to the “Yehon Moushi Yerabi” (Chosen
Insects), the master of Utamaro, Toriyama Sekiyen, throws so charming
a sidelight upon the youth of the artist, that the temptation to quote
is irresistible. The value of these Japanese prefaces to the world, to
workers in every field, is incalculable. At the outset of his work, M.
de Goncourt alludes to the well-known preface of Hokusai in the “Fugaku
Hiak’kei,” and doubtless fortified himself by the stimulating example
of the old master, when undertaking at the age of seventy the great
task of presenting to the Western world, under the title of “L’Art
Japonais,” a history of five noted painters, besides that of other
artists in bronze and lacquer, pottery and iron—artists in a land where
the terms artist and artisan are interchangeable, the only country
where art industrial almost always touches grand art.

The translator of the preface of Sekiyen is gratefully referred to by
M. de Goncourt as “l’intelligent, le savant, l’aimable M. Hyashi.” It
may be considered a revolutionary manifesto of the Profane School,
the school of real life, in opposition to the hierarchical Buddhist
academies of Kano and Tosa, which had become stultified by tradition
and stifled by conventional observances.

“Préface écrite par Toriyama Sekiyen, le maître d’Outamaro, célébrant
le naturisme (sorti du cœur) de son petit, de son cher élève Outa.”
“Reproduire la vie par le cœur, et en dessiner la structure au pinceau,
est la loi de la peinture. L’étude que vient de publier maintenant,
mon élève Outamaro, reproduit la vie même du monde des insectes. C’est
la vraie peinture du cœur. Et quand je me souviens d’autrefois, je me
rappelle que dès l’enfance, le petit Outa, observait le plus infini
détail des choses. Ainsi à l’automne, quand il était dans le jardin,
il se mettait en chasse des insectes, et que ce soit un criquet où une
sauterelle, avait-il fait une prise, il gardait la bestiole dans sa
main et s’amusait à l’étudier. Et combien de fois je l’ai grondé dans
l’appréhension qu’il ne prenne l’habitude, de donner la mort à des
êtres vivants. Maintenant qu’il a acquis son grand talent du pinceau,
il fait de ces études d’insectes, la gloire de sa profession.”

The enthusiastic master of _le petit Outa_ proceeds to rhapsodize upon
his pupil’s genius and intimate knowledge of the structure of insects.
“He makes us hear,” he says, “the shrilling of the tamamoushi,” the
cicada of Japan, whose endless peevish twanging upon one string forms
an underlying accompaniment to the harmonies of long summer days.
“He borrows the light weapons of the grasshopper for making war; he
exhibits the dexterity of the earthworm, boring the soil under the
foundations of old buildings; he penetrates the mysteries of nature in
the groping of the larvæ, in the lighting of his path by the glow-worm,
and he ends by disentangling the end of the thread of the spider’s web.”

The colour-printing of these insects is a miracle of art, says M. de
Goncourt, and there is nothing comparable to it in Europe. Of the
methods by which these colour prints are brought to such a height of
perfection, it is almost impossible to speak authoritatively. They are
the result of a threefold combination: of a paper marvellously prepared
from the bark of the shrub, _Kozo_, diluted with the milk of rice flour
and a gummy decoction extracted from the roots of the hydrangea and
hibiscus; of dyes, into the secret of whose alchemy no modern artist
can penetrate, it being safe to say the early “Tan-ye” and “Beni-ye”
prints can never be reproduced; of the application of those colours by
the master engraver’s fingers—that wizard hand of the Orient into whose
finger-tips are distilled the mysteries of bygone centuries. A portion
of the colour by means of this calculated pressure is drunk, absorbed
into the paper, and only the transparency is left vibrating upon the
fibres, like colour beneath the glaze.

The “Catalogue Raisonné” of M. de Goncourt is a prose masterpiece.
His descriptive touches, like pastels set in jewels, captivate the
imagination. Through him we see the albums, the fans, the kakemonos,
the surimonos. Oh, the prints, with their wondrous backgrounds, the
delight of Utamaro! Sometimes straw-yellow, the uniformity broken
with clouds of ground mica; sometimes gray in tint, like the traces
of receding waves upon the beach. Some silvered backgrounds throw
moonlight reflections upon the figures; some are sombre, bizarre—all
are marvellous beyond words. And the colours! we cannot define them in
English. The “bleus” (malades des mauves), the “rose” (beni) “si peu de
rose, qu’ils semblent s’apercevoir à travers un tulle; l’azur—délavé,
et comme noyé dans l’eau,”—not colours, but nuances, which recall the
colours. And the “Gauffrage,” so effective with the print artists, with
us a mere confectioner’s touch!

It is said that “the æsthetic temperament of a nation is most subtly
felt in the use of colour. Purity, coldness, sensuality, brightness,
dullness of tints, are significant terms correlated to mental and
physical human phenomena.” The assertion of Ruskin, that “the bodily
system is in a healthy state when we can see hues clearly in their
most delicate tints, and enjoy them, fully and simply, with the kind
of enjoyment children have in eating sweet things,” is brought to
mind in viewing the Japanese people upon the occasion of one of their
great flower fêtes, feasting their eyes upon cherry blooms or trailing
clusters of the wistaria.

 [Illustration: While Mother Sleeps. By Utamaro, named by M. de
 Goncourt: “Le Fondateur de L’École de la Vie.”]

Utamaro planned schemes of colour and devised harmonies—themes which,
improvised upon and endlessly imitated by his artist confrères, filled
his own countrymen with delight and ravished the hearts of Parisian
painters. The influence of Utamaro, Hiroshige and the other masters
of Ukiyo-ye revolutionized the colour-sense of the art world, so that
Theodore Child, writing in 1892, remarks of the Japanese influence:
“The Paris Salon of today as compared with the salon of ten years ago
is like a May morning compared with a dark November day.”

The same keen observation and technical skill which would have made
Utamaro a famous naturalist is shown in his marvellous studies
of women. He was the first Japanese artist who deviated from the
traditional manner of treating the face. The academic style demanded
the nose to be suggested by one calligraphic, aquiline stroke, the eyes
to be mere slits, the mouth the curled up petal of a flower. Utamaro
blent with this convention, so little human, a mutinous grace, a
spiritual comprehension; he kept the consecrated lines, but made them
approach the human. These “effigies of women” became individuals; in
one word, he is an idealist, he “makes a goddess out of a courtesan.”
No detail of her anatomy escapes his eye, no grace of line or beauty
of contour. M. de Goncourt, in detailing the great prints of Utamaro,
transports us to the Orient. He unrolls the film of memory, so that
again the Japanese woman stands, reclines, and lives before us.

“Vous avez la Japonaise en tous les mouvements intimes de son corps;
vous l’avez, dans ses appuiements de tête, sur le dos de sa main, quand
elle réfléchit, dans ses agenouillements, les paumes de ses mains
appuyées sur les cuisses, quand elle écoute, dans sa parole, jetée de
côté, la tête un peu tournée, et qui la montre dans les aspects si
joliment fuyants d’un profil perdu; vous l’avez dans sa contemplation
amoureuse des fleurs qu’elle regarde aplatie à terre; vous l’avez
dans ses renversements où légèrement elle pose, à demi assise, sur la
balustrade d’un balcon; vous l’avez dans ses lectures, où elle lit
dans le volume, tout près de ses yeux, les deux coudes appuyés sur
ses genoux; vous l’avez dans sa toilette qu’elle fait avec une main
tenant devant elle, son petit miroir de métal, tandis que de l’autre
main passée derrière elle, elle se caresse distraitement la nuque
de son écran; vous l’avez dans le contournement de sa main autour
d’une coupe de saké, dans l’attouchement délicat et recroquevillé
de ses doigts de singe, autour des laques, des porcelaines, des
petits objets artistiques de son pays; vous l’avez enfin, la femme de
l’Empire-du-Lever-du-Soleil, en sa grace grâce languide, et son coquet
rampement sur les nattes du parquet.”

To translate is to travesty, for the French language seems to be the
only medium through which can be filtered the nuances of Japanese
thought, which elude the ordinary elements of language, like the
perfume of flowers, the bouquet of delicate vintages. Our blunt
Anglo-Saxon mars that picture language, where one flexible, curved
calligraphic stroke conveys to the æsthetically receptive oriental
imagination what stanzas of rhyming rhapsody fail to define. Sir Edwin
Arnold and Lafcadio Hearn approach the French, are, so to speak,
orientalized. Ordinary English fails to give a Japanese equivalent.
It is too emphatic, too objective; it suggests the dominant British
hobnail upon the delicate Tea-house tatami—that immaculate, beautiful
matting, into whose uniform lines embroidered draperies dissolve
deliciously. Oh, those dreams of dresses!—the warp and woof of the
visions of the masters of Ukiyo-ye, of Harunobu and Kiyonaga, Toyokuni
and Kunisada, and all the rest, the idols of Parisian colourists!

“For us,” says M. de Goncourt, “Utamaro painted violet dresses, where,
upon the border, _degradation rosée_” (fading into Beni, that mystic
tint, the spirit of ashes of rose), “birds are swooping,—violet
dresses, across which woven in light, zigzag insect characters,
composing the Japanese alphabet,—violet dresses, where Corean lions,
grim and ferocious, crouch, gleaming in shading of old bronze within
the purple folds! Dresses of mauve, smoky, shading into bistre, where
the purple iris unsheathes its head from the slender gray-green stalk!”
Mourasiki-ya (maison mauve) was the name of the atelier of Utamaro.
“Robes of that milky blue the Chinese call ‘blue of the sky after the
rain,’ beneath clusters of pale rose peonies; dresses of silvery gray,
fretted with sprays of flowering shrubs, making a misty moonshine;
pea-green dresses, enamelled with rosy cherry blooms; green dresses,
fading into watery tints, hidden by groups of the pawlonia, the coat
of arms of the reigning family; purple costumes, channelled with water
courses, where mandarin ducks pursue each other around the hem. Oh,
the beautiful black backgrounds, controlling the scintillating mass
of colour! Black robes sown with chrysanthemums, or showered with
pine-needles, worked in white. Black dresses, where finely woven
baskets are mingled with sceptres of office! ‘Oh! les belles robes!’ he
cries, where flights of cranes dissolve into the distance, where birds
are fluttering, where lacy fretwork of fans and little garlands are
interwoven!—a motive delighted in by Utamaro as a framework for beloved
faces.” All that is beautiful in nature and art lived and breathed in
these dresses, upon which the loving hand of the painter left a grace
in every fold.

The early inspirer of Utamaro’s genius was Kiyonaga, who had restored
the glory of the school of Torii—the printer’s branch of Ukiyo-ye,
which had sunk into temporary oblivion under the waning powers of
Kiyomitsu. The atelier of Kiyonaga became the sanctuary of the artists
of Ukiyo-ye, who, upon entering, forsook their individual traditions.
There worshipped Toyokuni of Utagawa; Yeishi, the scion of classic and
aristocratic Kano; and at the master’s feet sat the Young Utamaro,
absorbing his methods until, in his early compositions, said M. de
Goncourt, the technique and mannerisms of Kiyonaga “saute aux yeux.”

The influence of Kiyonaga pervades his most beautiful work; but later,
under a life of constant self-indulgence, amongst associations all
tending to demoralization, his genius suffered an eclipse. His loss
of self-control affected his art, until the sweeping lines and noble
contours which his brush had acquired in the atelier of Kiyonaga were
lost or widely travestied into a “delirium of female tallness.” In
these wild flights his brother artists followed in headlong pursuit,
and the contagion of the movement swept the studios of Paris. In the
modern poster we see the degenerate offspring of the genius of Utamaro,
and of Toyokuni. Professor Fenollosa said, “The generation of Aubrey
Beardsley prefer these tricks to the sober grace of Harunobu, Kiyonaga
and Koriusai.” It is art born of excess, a “Zolaism in prints.”

The horrors of diseased imagination, the visions begotten of absinthe,
which blot the brilliant pages of De Maupassant and the verse of Paul
Verlaine, were reflected by Utamaro in his studies of the loathsome
and the abnormal, where Montaigne declares, “L’esprit faisant le
cheval eschappé, enfante des chimères.” The blasphemous impieties of
this culte, deplored by all true Frenchmen, in the country of Hugo and
Molière, were distanced by Utamaro, who suborned his art, his cynical
brush caricaturing under the distorted figures of noted courtesans
the saints and sages of the sacred Buddhist legends. Trading upon his
vast popularity, he issued a pictorial satire upon one of the famous
Shoguns, but this act of lèse-majesté brought him into disfavour with
the reigning Shogun, the Louis XV of Japan, an artistic voluptuary,
like his prototype, the subject of Utamaro’s cartoon, and the artist
was condemned and cast into prison. From his cell the gay butterfly of
the Yoshiwara emerged, spent and enfeebled, daring no more flights of
fancy, and dying in 1806, before he reached his fiftieth year, from the
effects of his confinement and the misuse of pleasure.

Oh, the pity of it! the profound pathos in the picture, in Sekiyen’s
preface of the little “Outa” holding his treasured prize, “la petite
bestiole,”—the childish artist-hands of the embryo master clasping the
insect so gently to preserve its ephemeral life, yet later plunging
into the dissipation and excesses which shortened his own. Living with
the déclassé, however we may gloss their imperfections and cover with
the cloak of charity their sorrowful calling, he became himself a
cynic, an outcast, an iconoclast, learning that “hardening of the heart
which brings

  “Irreverence for the dreams of youth.”

Though Utamaro was one of the greatest of the popular artists, his
demoralization led to the decadence of his school, which later was
regenerated by the great master of Ukiyo-ye, Hokusai, the artist of
the people. In Hokusai, “Dreaming the things of Heaven and of Buddha,”
breathed the pure spirit of art,—that Spirit of poetry and purity which
calls to us in Milton’s immortal lines:

    “Mortals, that would follow me,
    Love Virtue; she alone is free.
    She can teach ye how to climb
    Higher than the sphery chime;
    Or if Virtue feeble were,
    Heaven itself would stoop to her.”

                        The Romance of Hokusai.

                          Master of Ukiyo-ye.

 “_From the age of six, I had a mania for drawing the forms of things.
 By the time I was fifty, I had published an infinity of designs, but
 all I have produced before the age of seventy is not worth taking
 into account. At seventy-five I have learned a little about the real
 structure of nature,—of animals, plants and trees, birds, fishes and
 insects. In consequence, when I am eighty, I shall have made still
 more progress. At ninety I shall penetrate the mystery of things; at
 a hundred I shall certainly have reached a marvellous stage, and when
 I am a hundred and ten, everything I do—be it but a line or dot—will
 be alive. I beg those who live as long as I, to see if I do not keep
 my word. Written at the age of seventy-five by me,—once Hokusai,—today
 Gwakio-rojin, ‘the old man, mad about drawing.’_”

“_Ars longa, vita brevis_,” though a time-worn aphorism, seems
the best comment upon these words of Hokusai, which preface the
“Fugaku Hiak’kei” (Hundred Views of Fuji). Judging from what he had
accomplished, before his death in 1849, at the age of eighty-nine, and
the continual increase in his powers, it is easy to believe that had
his life been extended to the limit he craved, the prophecy would have
been fulfilled.

M. Louis Gonse says of Hokusai, “He is the last and most brilliant
figure of a progress of more than ten centuries—the exuberant and
exquisite product of a time of profound peace and incomparable

From the standpoint of Buddhism, Hokusai was the crowning glory, the
supreme efflorescence of countless previous incarnations. In his career
he epitomized the theory of evolution, the embryonic stages being
exemplified by his progress through the schools. Trained in the atelier
of Shunsho, the most skillful exponent of Ukiyo-ye art, he rapidly
absorbed the methods of his master; but even the Popular School was
trammelled by convention, and Hokusai’s genius, rejecting academic
fetters, winged its flight through all the realms of oriental art.

He drank at the fountain-head of China, then absorbed the traditions of
the “two great streams of Kano and Tosa, which flowed without mixing
to the middle of the eighteenth century.” Kano, springing from Chinese
models, was transformed by the genius of Masanobu and his followers,
and became the most illustrious school of painting in Japan. It was the
official school of the Shoguns, in opposition to “Tosa”—that elegant
and exquisite appanage of the Mikados, which represented aristocratic

The Tosa school is characterized by extreme delicacy of execution
and fine use of the brush, as in Persian miniature painting. The
splendour of the screens of Tosa has never been surpassed, with their
precious harmonies in colour and delicate designs (so often imitated in
lacquer), against glorious backgrounds in rich gold-leaf.

He studied the technique of Okio, founder of the school of realism,
which, maturing at Kyoto, led up to “Ukiyo-ye,” the popular art of the
masses of Yedo. Ukiyo-ye, literally “The Floating World,” despised by
the ascetic disciples of Buddha and Confucius for picturing the gay
world of fashion and folly, was the name of the school which liberated
Japanese art from the shackles of centuries of tradition.

  [Illustration: Two Ladies. By Hokusai.]

Ukiyo-ye is the supreme expression, the concentrated essence of
the schools, a river of art whose fount was India, Persia and China.
For centuries it was forced into narrow channels by the haughty and
exclusive aristocracy; but ever widening, its branches at last united
and swept into their joyous current the common people of Japan, who,
intuitively art lovers, had ever thirsted for the living stream. Now
they beheld themselves reflected, in all the naturalness of daily life,
yet with a spiritual rendering, “appealing,” said Jarves, “to those
intuitions with which the soul is freighted when it first comes to
earth, whose force is ever manifested by a longing for an ideal not of
the earth, and whose presence can only be explained as an augury of
a superior life to be, or else the dim reminiscence of one gone; and
the recognition of this ideal is the touchstone of art—art which then
becomes the solution of immortality.”

The originators of Ukiyo-ye, which included in its scope painting
proper, book illustration and single-sheet pictorial prints, were
Iwasa Matahei and Moronobu, followed in long succession by Shunsui,
the precursor of Hokusai’s master, Shunsho; and united with it were
the engravers of the Torii school, culminating in Kiyonaga (with whose
grace and beauty of line Hokusai could never compete), the refined
offshoot of the Kitao, and the elegant scion of Kano—Yeishi.

Hokusai’s individuality and independence long galled his master, and
a final rupture was caused by the pupil’s enthusiasm for the bold and
sweeping, black-and-white, calligraphic strokes of Kano. Then began
a hard struggle for the youthful artist, who had no money and no
influence. His father was a maker of metal mirrors, Hokusai’s real
name being Nakajima Tetsu Jiro, but his pseudonyms were legion. In
the atelier of Shunsho, he was called Shunro,—taking with the other
disciples of this school of Katsukawa, the first syllable of his
master’s name.

Cast adrift upon the streets of Yedo, he sold red pepper, and hawked
almanacs, at the same time constantly studying, and seizing the best
ideas from all the schools. Blent with an intuitive instinct for art,
the Japanese nature is essentially histrionic, and throughout the whole
career of Hokusai there is an element which is genuinely dramatic.
C. J. Holmes, in his beautiful work on Hokusai, gives many romantic
incidents in the artist’s life, and was it not by a theatrical _tour de
force_ that he first won popular favour?

He chose no doubt a national holiday, perhaps the festival of “Cherry
Viewing,” when Uyeno Park is thronged with sightseers of every station
in life. Here in the heart of the great city of Tokyo is a hallowed
spot—majestic, grand and peaceful, where in mystic solemnity the sacred
cedars enshrine that wondrous necropolis of illustrious dead,—for at
Uyeno lie buried six of the famous Shoguns.

In the courtyard of one of the temples, Hokusai erected a rough
scaffolding, upon which was spread a sheet of paper, eighteen yards
long and eleven in width. Here in the sacred heart of Japan, with
tubs of water and tubs of ink, the master and predestined genius of
his country manifested his power. He swept his huge brush this way
and that, the crowd constantly increasing in density, many scaling
the temple roof to see the marvellous feat,—a colossal figure,
springing into life at the touch of the creator. All who know his work
can in imagination picture the grand sweeping curves and graduated
shadings that the magic broom evolved; and the artistic people gazed
spell-bound, while many a murmured “Naruhodo!” (Wonderful) and sibilant
inhalation of the breath marked their recognition of the master’s power.

Displaying less of the artist than the genius at legerdemain were
Hokusai’s street tricks—almost reprehensible did we not know the dire
straits to which genius is often reduced. An eager expectant crowd
dogged his footsteps and watched with delighted curiosity, while he
sketched landscapes, upside down, with an egg or a bottle, or a wine
measure, anything that came to his hand,—changing with bewildering
effect from huge figures of Chinese heroes and demigods to microscopic
drawings on grains of rice, and pictures made out of chance blots of

His fame was noised abroad, and at last reached the ears of the Shogun,
and now an unprecedented honour was conferred upon the humble apostle
of the artisan, for he was summoned before the august presence to
give an exhibition of his skill. The Japanese are ever imitative, and
Hokusai may have borne in mind the legend of his prototype Sesshiu, an
artist-priest of the fifteenth century, who sketched before the Emperor
of China a marvellous dragon, with splashes from a broom plunged in ink.

Still more spectacular and theatrical was Hokusai’s debut, for,
spreading a sheet of paper before the feet of the monarch, he covered
it with a blue wash,—then seizing a live cock, he daubed its feet with
a red pigment, and let it run over the wet colour, when the Shogun
and his astonished courtiers beheld a flowing stream of liquid blue,
upon which appeared to float filmy segregated petals of red maple
leaves. A mere trick!—unworthy of genius, we might say, but Hokusai had
gauged his countrymen, and knew that his _jeu d’esprit_ would arouse
and impress these aristocratic connoisseurs, jaded with ceremonial
observances, more than any display of technical knowledge,—for the
Japanese, as a nation, are naively childish in their love of novelty
and amusement, and of the unusual and bizarre.

Is it not possible that this trickery of the master may have
unconsciously supplied the motive for Hiroshige’s famous print of a
Yedo suburb, chosen by Professor Fenollosa, in his beautiful work on
Ukiyo-ye,—where he so poetically says, “the orange fire of maples
deepens the blue of marshy pools”?

Space does not permit any detailed description of the compositions
of Hokusai, and there is no complete catalogue of his works, the
one nearest to accuracy being M. Edmond de Goncourt’s _Catalogue
raisonné_. His fecundity was marvellous. He illustrated books of all
kinds, poetry, comic albums, accounts of travels,—in fact his works
are an encyclopedia of Japanese life. His paintings are scattered, and
countless numbers lost, many being merely ephemeral drawings, thrown
off for the passing pleasure of the populace. The original designs
for the prints were transferred to the blocks, and lost, though the
master rigidly superintended the reproduction of his works, and his
wood-cutters were trained to follow the graceful sweeping curves with
perfect accuracy, many of his compositions being ruled across for exact

 [Illustration: A River Scene. By Hok’kei, the faithful pupil of
 Hokusai, who strove to follow in the footsteps of the Master.]

Ukiyo-ye art is bound up with print development, and the climax of
xylography had been reached in the time of Hokusai. Japanese book
illustration, and single-sheet printing, revolutionized the world’s
art. The great connoisseurs of colour tell us that nowhere else is
there anything like it,—so rich and so full, that a print comes to have
every quality of a complete painting.

Hokusai had served a four years’ apprenticeship to the school of
engraving, and his practiced eye was ever ready to detect any
inaccuracy in his workmen. “I warn the engraver,” he said, “not to add
an eyeball underneath when I do not draw one. As to the nose, these two
are mine,”—here he draws a nose in front and in profile,—“I will not
have the nose of Utagawa.” The greatest difference exists in the beauty
and colouring of the impressions, and the amateur, in his search for
Ukiyo-ye gems, should not trust his unaided judgment.

M. Louis Gonse said of the surimono, “To me they are the most seductive
morsels of Japanese art.” They are small, oblong prints, composed as
programmes for festive occasions with a text of verse enriched by
exquisite illustration. The surimono of Hokusai showed the influence of
Tosa, the decoration being very elaborate, and delicate as a Persian
miniature. In places, the surface of the print is goffered for ornament
in relief, and the colouring is enforced by inlaying in gold, silver,
bronze and tin.

Some of the best examples of Hokusai’s art are the “Waterfalls,” the
“Bridges,” “Thirty-six Views of Fuji,” the “Gwafu,” the “Hundred
Views of Fuji” (of which the finest edition was brought out in London
with a commentary by Mr. F. V. Dickins), and the fifteen volumes of
the “Mang-wa,”—a term hardly translatable, but signifying fugitive
sketches, or drawing as it comes, spontaneously. The preface best gives
us the intention of the master.

“Under the roof of Boksenn, in Nagoya, he dreamed and drew some three
hundred compositions. The things of Heaven and of Buddha, the life of
men and women, even birds and beasts, plants and trees, he has included
them all, and under his brush every phase and form of existence has
arisen. The master has tried to give life to everything he has painted,
and the joy and happiness so faithfully expressed in his work are a
plain proof of his victory.”

Hokusai has been called the king of the artisans, and it was for them
especially that he composed the drawings of Mang-wa. His influence is
expressed in all their works: in the structure of the roofs of temples,
in houses and their interiors; upon the things of every-day life, as
upon flowers and landscapes, upon lacquer, inros and netsukis, bronzes
and ivory.

Gustave Geffroy truly gauged the genius of Hokusai in speaking of his
“flights beyond the horizon.” In the master we recognize the creator.
He feels the mystery of the birth of mountains, as in that weird
composition of Fuji, where the great cone is seen rising above circle
upon circle of serpentine coils, forming the mystic tomoyé—symbol of
creation and eternity. He feels the pulsation of the universe, and the
life of ocean, and in a frenzy of creative power, beneath his hand
the curved crests of foaming waves break into life, flashing into
countless sea-birds born of the froth of ocean. He is the painter of
chimera, the prophet of cataclysm; he “gives the world a shake and
invents chaos.” How vivid is Holmes’ description of the wave in the
seventh Mang-wa!

“Man becomes a mere insect, crouching in his frail catamaran, as the
giant billow topples and shakes far above him. The convention of black
lines with which he represents falling rain is as effectual as his
conventions for water are fanciful. The storm of Rembrandt, of Rubens,
or of Turner, is often terrible but never really wet; Constable gets
the effect of wetness, but his storms are not terrible. Hokusai knows
how a gale lashes water into foam, and bows the tree before it; how
the gusts blow the people hither and thither, how sheets of drenching
rain half veil a landscape, how the great white cone of his beloved
Fuji gleams through a steady downpour! His lightning is rather odd in
comparison with the realistic studies of the great artists of Europe,
but what European ever tried an effect so stupendous as that recorded
in ‘Fugaku Hiak’kei,’ where the snowy top of Fuji is seen at evening,
crimson with the last fiery rays of sunset, while all the flanks of the
mountain are hidden by a dark storm-cloud, through which the lightning

Poetry and art are ever allied, and the vibrations of genius encircle
the globe. Byron and Ruskin and Hokusai were contemporaries. Possibly
at the very moment when the poet was immortalizing himself by composing
his “Storm in the Alps,” the grand “old man, mad about drawing,” was
sketching the peerless mountain:—

                                            “Far along
    From peak to peak, the rattling crags among,
    Leaps the loud thunder! not from one lone cloud,
    But every mountain now hath found a tongue,
    And Jura answers through her misty shroud,
    Back to the joyous Alps, who call to her aloud.”

Lord Byron’s vivid pen also best describes the squally storms of both
Hiroshige and Hokusai,—where

    “The big rain comes dancing to the earth.”

Was not Hokusai truly “a portion of the tempest”? as he represents
himself, drawing Fuji, in winter, working in a frenzy of haste,—for
the ground is covered with snow—two brushes in his hand, and wonder
of wonders! one held between his toes. This picture, also from “The
Hundred Views of Fuji,” prefaces Marcus B. Huish’s work on Japanese art.

The closing scene in the drama of Hokusai’s life is full of pathos.
Though his whole career had been shadowed by poverty, and shrouded in
obscurity, his art still held him earth-bound. Upon his death-bed he
said, “If Heaven would only grant me ten more years!”

Then, as he realized that the end approached, he murmured, “If Heaven
had but granted me five more years I could have been a real painter.”

So ended the life of the master of Ukiyo-ye. His body lies beneath
the pines of Asakusa, but would we not gladly believe that his “soul
turned Will-o’-the-wisp, may ever come and go at ease, over the summer
fields,”—for this was the last expression of his passionate desire.


            Landscape Painter and Apostle of Impressionism.

If the lovely “Land of the Rising Sun” should, during one of those
volcanic throes which threaten her extinction, sink forever beneath the
depths of ocean, she would yet live for us through the magic brush of
Hiroshige. Gazing at his landscapes, the airy wing of imagination wafts
us to a land of showers and sunsets—a fairy scene, where the rainbow
falls to earth, shattered into a thousand prisms—where waters softly
flow towards horizons touched with daffodil or azure tinted.

Here is a gliding _sampan_ with closed shutters. Inside, the lantern’s
diffused light throws a silhouette upon the bamboo curtain, a drooping
girlish head bending towards the unseen lover at her feet. Ripples play
upon the water, stirred by the amorous breath of oriental night. In
fancy we hear the tinkling of the samisen, touched by delicate fingers,
sweetly perfumed.

Now we see rain upon the Tokaido. A skurrying storm. Affrighted coolies
running this way and that. A mountain full of echoes and horror. Down
it splash rivulets, running into inky pools. Darkness and terror and
loneliness, and longing for warmth and shelter and the peace of home.

In marked contrast is one of the “Seven Impressions of Hakone.” A glad
reveille. The sun breaks out, the clouds have burst asunder, masses of
vapour float here and there. All is chaotic, untamed, a palette wildly

The Japanese so dearly love Nature, in all her moods, that when she
dons her mantle of snow they hesitate, even when necessity compels,
to sully its purity. In one of Utamaro’s prints, sweetly entitled by
M. Edmond de Goncourt “La Nature Argentée,” a little musüme is seen
searching the snowy landscape she loves, and, hating to blot the
beautiful carpet, she cries, “Oh, the beautiful new snow! Where shall
I throw the tea-leaves?” With Hiroshige, the artist of snow and mist,
we feel this love, and so successfully, does he deal with a snowy
landscape that we see the snow in masses, luminous, soft and unsullied,
as if Nature had lent a helping hand to portray her pure white magic.
So, without formula or technique, but absolutely and sincerely, he
unrolls the winter pageant before us.

The Japanese landscape painter sums up nature in broad lines, to which
all details are more or less subordinated. This rendering of the
momentary vision of life and light,—the spirit, not the letter of the
scene,—is what is meant by Impressionism. Whereas, however the French
impressionists express light by modelling surfaces, the Japanese adhere
rigidly to line, and rely upon gradations of colour and the effect of
washes to produce the illusion of light. Their landscape is expressed
in clear-cut lines and flat masses of colour. In the prints this virtue
of abstract line is exemplified, the outline being the essential
element of the composition, for upon line and arrangements of balanced
colour the artist must depend, cramped as he is by the necessities
of the wood-cut. And here he displays his wonderful ingenuity, his
fineness of gradations and opposition, his boldness and infinity of
device, and in spite of the limitations which hamper him, he realizes
absolute values in the narrowest range, by virtue of his knowledge of
lines and spaces.

  [Illustration: Wistaria Viewing at Kameido. By Hiroshige.]

“No scientifically taught artist,” said Jarves, “can get into as few
square inches of paper a more distinct realization of space, distance,
atmosphere, perspective and landscape generally, not to mention
sentiment and feeling.”

This virtue of the line is the inheritance of the Japanese, the
consummate handling of the brush almost a racial instinct. From China,
far back in the centuries, came the sweeping calligraphic stroke,
of which in Japan the school of Kano became the noblest exponent.
“_L’école_,” said M. de Goncourt, “_des audaces et de la bravoure du
faire, l’école tantôt aux écrasements du pinceau, tantôt aux ténuités
d’un cheveu._”

As soon as the tiny hand of the Japanese baby can grasp the brush its
art education begins. The brush is the Japanese alphabet—it is their
fairy wand, their playmate—they learn to paint intuitively, though
later the most assiduous study is given to acquire the characteristic
touch of the school with which they affiliate. The brush is their
_génie_, subservient to their imagination; they master and “juggle”
with it. For no foreign taught technique will they barter their

And our masters and instructors in art more and more recognize the
value of initial brush-work. The following excerpt from Walter Crane,
in _Line and Form_, might serve as a preface to a work on Hokusai or
Hiroshige: “The practice of forming letters with the brush afforded
a very good preliminary practice to a student of line and form. An
important attribute of line is its power of expressing or suggesting
movement. Undulating lines always suggest action and unrest or the
resistance of force of some kind. The firm-set yet soft feathers of a
bird must be rendered by a different touch from the shining scales of a
fish. The hair and horns of animals, delicate human features, flowers,
the sinuous lines of drapery, or the massive folds of heavy robes,
all demand from the draughtsman in line different kinds of suggestive

We are told that Hiroshige began his career by making pictures in
coloured sands on an adhesive background, to amuse the public, and
perhaps this artistic juggling helped him later in arranging his
schemes of colour, for the limitations of the block demanded almost
equal simplicity in composition.

The impressions of Lake Biwa, one of Hiroshige’s finest series of
views, serve as a beautiful illustration of the almost exclusive use of
line in bringing out the salient characteristics of the landscape. His
sweeping brush shows us volcanic mountains, encircling the lake, like
rocky billows, torn and jagged, for legend says that as the peerless
mountain Fuji-san rose in one night, so the ground sank, and the space
was filled by the beautiful lake named from its resemblance in form to
the Japanese lute. The trees which fringe the shore, black and misty,
upon close inspection resolve themselves into a network of criss-cross
lines and blotches. The sampans’ sails, the waves, the rushes on the
shore, the roofs of the village nestling beneath the cliffs, are all
adroitly rendered by horizontal lines and skillful zigzags. The rest of
the composition is a wash of shaded blues and grays, fading towards the
horizon into smoky violets.

Biwa, the beautiful, suggestive of mystery, the four-stringed lute
gives thee her name. Through the music of thy rippling eddies do sighs
well up in thee, the murmur of the lost? A pall of darkness hovers over
thee, pierced by a gleam of sunshine, beckoning like a lover’s hand.

Much diversity of opinion exists with regard to the identity of the
artist, or artists, who designed the prints signed Hiroshige. The
latest research, however, justifies the assertion that there was but
one landscape painter, Hiroshige the Great.

The pupils,—notably one, who, among other names, signed Shigenobu,
until after his master’s death, when he took the title of Hiroshige
the Second, gradually assuming his full _nom-de-pinceau_, Hiroshige
Ichiryusai,—faithfully imitated his style, also amplifying the
multitudinous designs and sketches made by the master, yet the genius
of the great artist is stamped upon his work, and as a clever critic
tersely says: “Everything he touched was his autograph.”

Mr. John S. Happer, an indefatigable student of Ukiyo-ye and collector
of nishiki-ye gems, during diligent research, discovered a clew that
leads, beyond controversy, to the right attribution of the prints
signed Hiroshige, and which he intends later to make public. Nearly
all the important vertical sets, he says, most of which have been
ascribed to the second Hiroshige, are by the first artist, although
doubtless his pupils assisted him in his work, rendering their aid, as
did the pupils of Hokusai in the preparation of the Mang-wa. Hiroshige
also associated himself at times with other artists, one set of the
Kisokaido, for example, being in part the work of Keisai Yeisen, and
he supplied many backgrounds to the prints of Kunisada and Kuniyoshi.

In the catalogue of the “Collection Hayashi” only two prints are
assigned to pupils of Hiroshige, one of them bearing the signature of

The masterpieces signed Hiroshige are all by one great genius, the
Apostle of Impressionism. “Hiro, Hiro, Hiroshige, great is Hiroshige,”
cries Mr. Happer, in an outburst of enthusiasm. “Before Hiroshige there
was no Japanese landscape master,—after him there is none.”

In the “Happer” Collection is a memorial portrait of Hiroshige by
Kunisada (Toyokuni), the inscription upon which is of especial
interest, confirming, as it does, the date of his death and proving
that the “Meisho Yedo Hiak’kei,” the vertical set of Yedo views, so
often ascribed to his successor, were by the master.

The inscription is thus quaintly interpreted by a Japanese student:

“Ryusai Hiroshige is a distinguished follower of Toyohiro, who was a
follower of Toyoharu, the founder of the Utagawa School. At the present
time, Hiroshige, Toyokuni and Kuniyoshi are considered the three great
masters of Ukiyo-ye,—no others equal them. Hiroshige was especially
noted for landscape. In the Ansei era, 1854-1859, he published the
‘Meisho Yedo Hiak’kei’ (‘Hundred Views of Yedo’), which vividly present
the scenery of Yedo to the multitude of admirers.

“About this time also appeared a magazine entitled ‘Meisho Zuye’
(‘Sonnets on Yedo Scenes’), a monthly, illustrated by Hiroshige, and
displaying his wonderful skill with the brush, to the admiration
of the world. He passed away, to the world beyond, on the sixth day
of the ninth month of this year, 1858, at the ripe age of sixty-two
(sixty-one by our count). He left behind a last testament, or farewell
sonnet, ‘_Azuma ji ni fude wo no-koshite tabi no sora; Nishi no mi kuni
no Meisho wo Mimu._’ (Dropping the brush at Azuma, Eastern Capital, I
go the long journey to the Western Country, Buddhist Heaven is in the
West, to view the wonderful sceneries there; perchance to limn them

“This by Temmei Rojin, picture by Toyokuni.

“Dated, Ansei 5, ninth month (October, 1858).”

The best known prints by Hiroshige are the “Fifty-three Stations
between Yedo and Kyoto.” This Tokaido series was at first beautifully
printed, but the later impressions show a sad decay in the colouring.
The “Yedo Haik’kei” or “Hundred Views of Yedo,” give a panoramic vista
of the Shoguns’ capital. The pictorial description of Yedo, in black
and pale blue, is a lovely series. In many of these landscapes the
Dutch influence is very marked, for the master of Hiroshige, Toyohiro,
from whom he derived the first syllable of his _nom-de-pinceau_, had
experimented in landscape painting after the Dutch wood-cuts which
were scattered throughout the country. Although Hiroshige is best
known through his landscapes, he, like most Japanese painters, was
too universal an artist to confine himself solely to one branch. He
loved every phase of nature, and in one of his well-known prints,
“The Eagle,” his skill in the delineation of birds is best shown. In
the later impressions a pale yellowish tone takes the place of the
beautiful steel-blue background of the earlier prints, miracles of
colour printing.

Athwart this background of ineffable blue, which loses itself in the
mists that veil the sacred mountain, is seen, sweeping and sailing
cruelly alert, the evil eagle of Hiroshige. His wicked gaze is set on
nests of murmuring wood-doves, he eyes the callow sea-birds in their
bed of rushes. The temple bell rings solemnly; the long vibrations
cleave the azure dusk. It is the hour of rest and dreams. Begone, base
harbinger of evil!

In the early prints by Hiroshige the colours are most beautiful, one
soft tone fading imperceptibly into another, the blues and greens so
marvellously blended as to be almost interchangeable. We are told that
Michelangelo loved the companionship of the old workman who ground
his colours; and of the Japanese, it is said, “this making one family
of the greater artist and all who had to do with him has given that
peculiar completeness, that sense of peace and absence of struggle
which we feel in Japanese art.”

In vain Hiroshige fought, towards the middle of the nineteenth century,
against introduction of cheap and inferior pigments, which were taking
the place of the native dyes—Nature’s gifts, distilled by her artist
children. Reds, yellows, blues and greens, intense and crude, were now
imported, and Western commercialism sapped the virtue of the sincere
and devoted artists and artisans of the Orient.

In describing the effect of colour in one of the Nikko temples, W.
B. Van Ingen throws a searchlight upon the chemical secrets of this
splendour, which he tells us, if asked to describe in one word, that
word would be “golden.” “These colours,” he says, “are not imitations
of colours. If vermilion is used, it is cinnabar and not commercialized
vermilion which is employed, nor is something substituted for cobalt
because it is cheaper and will ‘do just as well.’ Each colour is used
because it is beautiful and frank as a colour, not because some other
colour is beautiful. If lacquer is the best medium to display the
beauty of the pigment, lacquer is used, and if water is better, lacquer
is discarded, and if these colours are not imitations of colours,
neither are they suggestions of colours. Pink is not used for red; if
it is used at all, it is used for its own beauty, and feeble bluish
washes are not made to do service for blue. The Oriental has not yet
learned the doctrine of substitution; he knows that substitution is

The secrets of colouring of the early prints, the joy of Parisian
studios and which inspired Whistler, are lost. The delicious greens
of old mosses, the pale rose tints, the veinings and marblings, the
iridescent tints of ocean shells, the luminous colours of the anemone,
the _bleus malades des mauves_—that divine violet, a benison of the
palette handed down by those old Buddhist monks, the earliest painters
of India and China.

These visions of colour are taking the place of obscurity and gloom,
for the great impressionists, Claude Monet, Manet, the Barbizon
school also and its disciples, have abjured the old dark shadows and
substituted violet washes, seeming to share the privilege with the
saints and sages of “seeing blue everywhere.” All true artists live
“within the sphere of the infinite images of the soul.” These seers are
their own masters, and, as Theodore Child says so exquisitely, “they
are of rare and special temperaments, and through their temperament
they look at nature and see beautiful personal visions. They fix their
visions in colour or marble and then disappear forever, carrying with
them the secrets of their mysterious intellectual processes.” Such a
special temperament was bequeathed to Whistler. He submitted himself to
the Japanese influence, not imitating but imbibing oriental methods,
and following them, notwithstanding Philistine clamour, for the
English art doctrines of the time were diametrically opposed to these
innovations. Regardless of sneers, he followed the bent of his genius,
which led him into oriental fields. He felt the sweet influence of such
artists as Hokusai and Hiroshige. He took advantage of the centuries
of thought given to drapery, in the land where, as with Greece, dress
is a national problem; where no fads and follies of fashion fostered
by commercialism are allowed; where the artists design dress, and the
people gratefully and sincerely adopt their ideas.

When we can follow them and allow art to rule, then hideous vagaries
and vulgarities, distortions of the figure by hoops and wires, and
monstrosities in sleeves will cease. Then may we hope to be an æsthetic
nation. We need our American Moronobus to design and embroider and
paint dresses for their beautiful and intuitively tasteful countrywomen.

The colour vision of the Oriental far surpasses our own. His eyes are
sensitive to colour harmonies which, applied to landscape, at first
seem unreal, impossible, until we realize that though they present
objects in hues intrinsically foreign to them, yet the result justifies
this arrangement, and its integrity is recognized, for the impression
we receive is the true one. And this chaotic massing of colour we
notice in a landscape by Hiroshige was employed by many of the old
masters. Of the stormy passion of Tintoret, Ruskin says: “He involves
his earth in coils of volcanic cloud, and withdraws through circle
flaming above circle the distant light of paradise.”

There is a keynote to art, as to music, and to genius; through the
inner vision this harmony is revealed. It lies within the precincts of
the soul, beyond the reach of talented mediocrity, however versed in
the canon of art. Nor can this occult gift be handed down. The most
ardent disciples of Raphael tried in vain to express themselves after
his pattern. The sublime inspiration which found its fullest outward
manifestation in the Sistine Madonna rested there. The poets realized
this colour vision, for Dante cried—

  “Had I a tongue in eloquence as rich
   As is the colouring in Fancy’s loom.”

Inspiration must be sought by other than mechanical means. Have not the
most inspired revelations of colour come to the great master, William
Keith, when, invoking the aid of his old temple bell, its lingering
vibrations yielded to him rich secrets of colour harmony, as the song
of the bell revealed to the soul of Schiller the mystery of life and
birth and death, which he crystallized in his immortal poem?

This is the keynote of Impressionism, the touchstone of art. What a
fairy wand was wafted by Whistler, standing upon Battersea Bridge! “The
evening mist,” he said, “clothes the riverside with poetry, as with a
veil, and the poor buildings lose themselves in the dim sky, and the
tall chimneys become Campanili, and the warehouses are palaces in the
night and the whole city hangs in the heavens, and fairyland is before

Leaning upon the bridge, the sweet influence of Hiroshige permeating
his soul, in the crucible of his fancy he blent with the radiant Orient
a vision of old London, grimy and age-worn, and realized “a Japanese
fancy on the banks of the gray Thames.” To this picture he set the
seal of his brother artist, and so the two apostles of Impressionism,
Occidental and Oriental, in that loveliest nocturne, will together go
down to posterity.

                        Analytical Comparisons

                   between the Masters of Ukiyo-ye.

It is difficult rightly to determine the distinguishing characteristics
of the noted artists of Ukiyo-ye: but the connoisseurs speak of the
extreme grace of pictorial line in Moronobu: the sweeping areas of
pattern in the garments of Kiyonobu and his followers, and their
forceful ways of outlining the folds of drapery, all full of meaning.

Grace and delicacy mark the idyllic compositions of Harunobu and his
successor Koriusai (the face of the Japanese woman is the face of
Harunobu, Koriusai, Shunsho and his school). M. de Goncourt says:
“The Japanese woman is lithe, little, and rounded. Out of this woman
Utamaro created the slender, svelte woman of his prints,—a woman who
has the delicate outlines of an early Watteau sketch. Before Utamaro,
Kiyonaga had drawn women, larger than nature, but fleshy and thick.
The face of the ordinary Japanese woman is short and squat, and except
for the inexpressible vivacity and sweetness of the black eyes it is
the face which Harunobu, Koriusai and Shunsho represented. Out of
this face Utamaro created a long oval. He slid into the traditional
treatment of the features a mutinous grace, a naïve astonishment, a
spiritual comprehension; and he was the first artist who attempted,
while preserving the consecrated traditional lines, to blend with them
a human expression, so that his best prints become real portraits.
Studying them, we no longer see only the universal, but the individual
face, and, unlike the other Japanese artists, he idealizes his
countrywoman through the mimicry of her gracious humanity.”

The women of Kiyonaga have a more than human dignity and grace, the
classic folds of his drapery recalling figures of the Renaissance. The
Japanese artist always has an underlying motive in the disposition of
his drapery. The most recognizable perhaps are those called “Guantai,”
signifying rude, with angular outlines, and “Rintai,” delicate, supple
and wavy, like the undulations of a river.

In the “Guantai” motive we see the angles of the rocks, even in the
most delicate folds of drapery. In “Rintai” no angle is visible. Here
wavelike ripples descend, flowing around the feet of the wearer. In
these swirls of drapery are realized the Buddhist conceptions of Life
in everything,—the lines are moving, sentient, and all but the leading
folds that determine the lines of the figure are suppressed. The
Japanese painter knows that the true master selects, does not draw all
he sees, but concentrates his efforts towards reproducing the lines of
movement, and in figures, the lines of the limbs and flowing drapery.
In their designs for dresses the artists of Ukiyo-ye emphasized
the theorem that art is the love of certain balanced relations and
proportions, for they planned dresses in which every separate part is
welded into one harmonious whole. They solved theories in colour, and
delighted in selecting as trials for their skill the most unmanageable
patterns, such as plaids and checks. They extolled “Notan” or the
decorative use of values.

 [Illustration: Two Ladies. By Yeishi, who gave to his faces a mystic,
 even religious expression, like the women of the Middle Ages.]

In the best prints the decoration of the dress fits in with the
scheme of the picture. M. de Goncourt says: “If the figures are
represented out of doors, flowers seem to be shed upon the dresses, as
if the wearer passed beneath blossoming trees. If the artist paints
butterflies on a costume, they harmonize with the background. If
peonies are used he alternates their whiteness with a purple tint.
And how admirable is their use of relief! Upon a blue or mauve gown,
how charming is the white relief of an embossed cherry petal, and
so marvellously executed is this goffering, that many of the oldest
impressions retain the impression as perfectly as if only printed
yesterday.” Utamaro at first equalled Kiyonaga in the majesty of his
figures, later he lost beauty and strength in exaggeration. Yeishi
shows a striking resemblance to Utamaro, and he, too, followed after
Kiyonaga: his studies of women are noted for their refined elegance.
Yeisen compares with Utamaro in the grace with which he portrays women,
and Yeizan’s lines are stronger, but show a marked similarity. Hartmann
says: “The linear beauties of the representations of Yeizan, Yeishi,
Yeisen, impress one like a Nautch, like some languid oriental dance in
which the bodies undulate with an almost imperceptible vibration. The
Japanese see in a woman, a glorification of all beautiful things—they
even study the natural grace of the willow, plum and cherry trees, to
find the correct expression of her movements.”

Toyokuni was the master of mimetic art. In his actor faces he runs the
gamut of emotion,—jealousy, passion, fiendish fury and concentrated
cunning, rush at us from his prints. Toyokuni, the Marionette maker,
forced life into the forms of his puppets, and later the same power is
shown in his designs for the block. Like many of the Ukiyo-ye artists,
he employs caricature, but his figures are living, sentient.

M. de Goncourt says: “In comparing two books by Utamaro, and Toyokuni,
illustrating the occupations of the women of the Yoshiwara Toyokuni,
often the equal of Utamaro in his triptychs is beaten by his rival.
His women have not the elegance, the willowy grace, the figures of
Utamaro possess, nor their resplendent personality. His pictures lack
the spirit, the life, the ‘trick’ of voluptuousness of the women of
the ‘Flower Quarter.’ Then the comic note which Toyokuni sought for in
representing these scenes, adds triviality to his work. In short, to
judge between the rival painters, one has only to place side by side
a woman painted by Utamaro and one by Toyokuni. The first is a little
marvel, the second only a commonplace print.” Kunisada followed in the
footsteps of his master Toyokuni, adding charming backgrounds, which
he borrowed from Hiroshige; in fact, the Hiroshige are said to have
supplied many backgrounds to the prints of Kunisada and Kuniyoshi.

Hokusai used all methods, acknowledged no school. His lines flowing
out of the prescribed limits hint at vast stretches of country. Swirls
of waves foam up in the impressions, supplying an alphabet of motion.
In Mang-wa is blent sweetness and power, structure and the fundamental
vital motive, underlying all art. When working for the engraver he was
concise, rapid and impulsive, but when contemplating nature he sketched
in freedom,—his execution became fairylike.

 [Illustration: An Actor in the Miyako Dance. By Shunko, pupil of
 Shunsho, nicknamed Ko-tsubo, or “The Little Jar,” from the seal used
 by his master.]

The landscape of Hiroshige, though confined to the narrow range of the
wood-cut, have all the qualities of Impressionism, the details are
subordinated, only the salient points of the scene being represented,
but the atmosphere supplies what is lacking, and this incommunicable,
subtle gift, the birthright of the artists, enabled them to conjure
living pictures from the hard medium of the wooden block.

The following suggestive comparisons between the masters of Ukiyo-ye,
kindly volunteered by Mr. Morgan Shepard, are full of value to the
student, as the individual opinion of a refined amateur and art critic.

Of Harunobu he says: “Though from the point of proportion his figures
seem to lack technic, the naïve artlessness of his lines perfectly
satisfies us. In this purpose of simplicity they almost suggest the
qualities of the fresco work by the early Tuscan masters, when the
spirit was striving for expression and working out individuality along
its own spiritual lines. The vigour of his stroke impresses one as
being untraditional.

“In the figure of the Dancer by Shunko, the pupil of Shunsho, we
observe that, although through training and tradition the pupil has
gained a greater facility, yet the simplicity of the master is lost in
an excess of elaboration. The lines resemble those of Shunsho, though
there is more uniformity of stroke, with a greater delicacy, but the
simplicity of the first artist is merged in decorative purpose. Shunsho
is distinctly simple and his lines have a blended quality of relation,
giving a sense of repose which in the pupil is obscured by the tendency
to elaborate.

“In epitomizing the cardinal qualities expressed in the Utamaro
prints, the most marked is the suggestion of subjective, unconscious
skill that gives no impress of the objective. Each line seems to come
directly from the fountain-head of the man’s spiritual or soul nature,
though this very soul nature expresses itself often along sensual
lines. Indeed, were the artist less of a spiritual genius, he would
often become revoltingly sensual. To the casual observer the lines of
Utamaro show wonderful facility, and still greater delicacy, yet we
cannot but observe underlying all his art, especially in its later
phases, this subtle sensuality. The lower draperies of the Utamaro
figures have an almost insinuating fullness.

“The compositions of Yeishi, upon superficial study, suggest marked
facility and even some originality in line composition, with here and
there an eccentricity which gives character to his treatment. The
lines seem to be invariably broad and openly expressed. They lack the
strong personality and vigorous treatment of Hokusai, the suggestive
delicacy and voluptuousness of Utamaro, but seem to embody the vigorous
calligraphic stroke of Kiyonaga. We can place Yeishi upon a plane of
individuality because of his sensitive temperament which seemed to
be influenced by his environment and his master teacher. This varied
individuality was accompanied by a tendency towards imitation, yet
a generous discrimination would concede to him facility, technic,
refinement and rare judgment.

“The lines of Toyokuni show technical skill, and his calligraphic
stroke is simple and vigorous, yet he lacks the spiritual and
suggestive delicacy of Utamaro, giving the impression that
externalities influenced him, rather than the finer shades of artistic

  [Illustration: The Snowstorm. By Kitugawa Yeizan.]

His best work is histrionic and is full of individuality, breaking
through the traditional stage attitudes, which impressed the artists
who developed along his lines.

“Yeizan’s treatment is peculiarly his own, having a simplicity almost
amounting to awkwardness expressed in a reserve of treatment. The
casual observer is impressed by a sense of incompleteness, but this
is overcome when the simple harmony of the lines is noted. Yeizan
invariably breaks loose from his first reserve. Beginning very
carefully he gradually loses his constraint, and the lower part of his
drapery shows greater impulse of treatment.

“The work of Yeisen, showing much of Utamaro’s facility, with a
touch of the vigour of Kiyonaga, is yet distinctly conceived along
traditional lines. It bears the strong impress of decorative sense, but
nevertheless the lines, though simple and well controlled, show rather
the finished master of technic than the originative mind. In Yeisen
we are less conscious of that emanating quality of originality and
forceful personality that we feel in Harunobu, Hokusai and Utamaro.”

In analyzing the composition of the celebrated work by Hokusai,
reproduced on the opposite page, Mr. Shepard comments: “In this, as
in all Hokusai’s pictures, we note the combination of vigour and
gentleness, characteristic aggression and insinuating suggestion,
an absolutely masterly touch, and yet painstaking in minutiæ. The
poise of the figure is admirable and absolutely satisfying in all
matters of drawing. The treatment of the waves, which are peculiarly
characteristic of the master’s touch, in their foamy sputter suggest
a comparison with the strength of Hiroshige’s huge billows, majestic
in their oily smoothness and sweeping grace. Giving the impression of
the middle distance, the artist has delicately approached with the
most wonderful ease, the vapory suggestion of the distant mountain
line. He slips from the vigour of the foreground with a parallel
stroke of astonishing freedom, seeming almost to remain poised, so
that we reach without violence the faintly suggested distance as if
we had unconsciously slid from reality into dreamland, unknowing of
the transition. Hokusai possesses a masterly technic, a characteristic
vigour, imagination, delicacy ofttimes opposed by a brutal ruggedness,
and above all a pervading sense of humour.”

 [Illustration: One of the Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji. By Hokusai.]

                 Hints to Collectors of Ukiyo-ye Gems.

To truly appreciate Japanese prints, a knowledge of the language of the
block must first be acquired, then the pursuit has an indescribable
charm, inexplicable excepting to the initiated, but to those who have
fallen under the spell, the love of Ukiyo-ye gems becomes a veritable
passion. The collector of old prints must be guided in his selection
by the quality of the paper, which should be soft and vibrant, the
fibrous tentacles upon its surface often forming shadows where it has
been exposed to the dust. The register must be perfect, each colour
being confined absolutely to its prescribed space. Perfection in the
register is an infallible guide, and prints with a perfect register
will increase in value. The colours must be soft and melting, in many
cases one tone shading into another, not harshly determined by the
lines of the block, as in even the most beautiful reproductions. The
florid colouring of the later impressions by the Hiroshige are notable
examples of the deterioration caused by the use of cheap pigments and
the haste of the printer who had to supply the increasing demand for
cheap pictures.

There are often exquisite examples of colouring to be found among the
later impressions from the old blocks, but the lovely colours and
nuances of colours conjured by the artists, designers and printers in
loving collaboration, before commercialism had invaded Japan, can never
be seen again, even as the disciples of William Morris seem unable to
reproduce the beautiful shades which the genius of the master workman
evolved from the dyeing-vat.

                  Bibliography, for Use of Students.

 Anderson, William: Pictorial Arts of Japan. (London: Sampson Low,

 Anderson, William: Japanese Wood Engravings: Their History, Technique
 and Characteristics. (London: Portfolio, 1895.)

 Bing, S.: Artistic Japan: Compiled by S. Bing, with the assistance
 of Wm. Anderson, T. Hayashi, E. de Goncourt, and others. (New York:
 Brentano’s, 5 Union Square.)

 Fenollosa, Ernest Francisco: An Outline of the History of Ukiyo-ye.
 (Tokyo: Kobayashi.)

 Fenollosa, Mary McNeil: Hiroshige, the Artist of Mist, Snow, and Rain.
 (San Francisco, 1901.)

 Goncourt, E. de: Outamaro, Le Peintre des Maisons Vertes. (Paris: 11
 Rue de Grenelle, 1891.)

 Gonse, Louis: L’Art Japonais. (Paris: A. Quartin, 1883.)

 Hartmann, Sadakichi: Japanese Art. (Boston: Page & Co., 1904.)

 Hayashi, T.: Catalogue of the Hayashi Collection, with Illustrations.
 (Paris, 1902.)

 Holmes, C. J.: Hokusai. (London: Longmans, Green & Co., 1901.)

 Huish, Marcus B.: Japan and Its Art. (London: The Fine Arts Society,

 Jarves, James Jackson: A Glimpse of the Art of Japan. (New York,

 Okakura, Kakuzo: Essays on Japanese Art, in “Japan,” edited by F.
 Brinkley. Also: Japanese Pictorial Art, in Vol. 7, “Japan and China,”
 by F. Brinkley. (Boston and Tokyo: J. B. Millet Co.)

 Pepper, Charles Hovey: Japanese Prints. (Boston: Walter Kimball &

 Perzynski, Friedrich: Farbenholzschnitt Der japanische
 Farbenholzschnitt. (Berlin.)

 Revon, Michel: Etude Sur Hok’sai. (Paris, 1896.)

 Seidlitz, W. von: Geschichte des japanischen Farbenholzschnitts.
 (Dresden: Gerhard Kuhtmann, 1897.)

 Strange, Edward F.: Japanese Illustration. (London: George Bell &
 Sons, 1904.)

 Strange, Edward F.: Colour Prints of Japan. (Langham Series of Art
 Monographs. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1904.)


          of the most famous Signatures of Ukiyo-ye Artists.

Hishikawa Moronobu. 1643-1711-13.

Okumura Masanobu. 1690-1720.

Suzuki Harunobu. 1747-1818.

Koriusai. 1760.

Shunsho. Died 1792.

Iitsu (Hokusai). 1760-1849.

Hokusai. 1760-1849.

Gakio Rojin Manji (Hokusai). 1760-1849.

Hok’kei. 1780-1856-9.

Kiyonaga. Died 1814.

Utamaro. 1754-1806.

Toyokuni. 1768-1825.

Kikugawa Yeizan. Flourished 1810-30.

Kunisada. 1785-1864.

Yeishi. Flourished 1754-1805.

Keisei Yeisen. 1790-1848.

Kuniyoshi. 1800-1861.

Hiroshige. 1793-1858-60.

Hiroshige. 1793-1858-60.



  Beni, 22, 39

  Botticelli, 13

  Brunt, Henry Van, 32

  Child, Theodore, 24

  Cho Densu, 6

  Chromo-xylography, 27

  Cimabue, 7

  Crane, Walter, 4

  Danjuro, 26

  Eta, 25

  Forty-seven Ronin, 14

  Genroku, 13

  Giorgione, 24

  Giotto, 7

  Guantai, 70

  Harunobu, Suzuki, 23-26

  Hayashi, T., 38

  Heizei, 3

  Hiroshige, 34, 57

  Hogen, 7

  Hokusai, 34, 47

  Itcho, 13

  Iyemitsu, 31

  Jipensha, Ikkou, 36

  Josetsu, 4

  Kako, 20

  Kano, 3, 4, 5

  Kanaoka, 30

  Kenzan, 13

  Kitao, 29

  Kiyomasu, Torii, 22

  Kiyomitsu, Torii, 26

  Kiyonaga, Torii, 32, 33

  Kiyonobu, Torii, 26

  Korin, 13

  Koriusai, 28-33

  Kozo, 39

  Kunisada, 20

  Kuranosuki, 16

  Leonardo da Vinci, 13-14

  La Farge, 30

  Mang-wa, 54

  Matahei, 8-9

  Masanobu, 5-6

  Meiji, 8

  Ming Dynasty, 2

  Mitford, 14

  Miyagawa Choshun, 21

  Mitsunobu, 7

  Mitsunori, 9

  Motomitsu, 3

  Moronobu, 6, 9, 10, 11, 20, 21

  Motonobu, 5, 6, 7

  Nishiki-ye, 22

  No Kagura, 25

  Notan, 70

  Okio, 30, 31

  Okumura Masanobu, 22

  Otsu-ye, 10

  Pater, 2, 24

  Popular School, 2, 8, 9, 30

  Register, 77

  Renaissance, 6

  Rintai, 70

  Ruskin, 40

  Sesshiu, 51

  Sekiyen, 38

  Shigemasa, 29

  Shigenaga, 23

  Shoguns, 4, 48

  Shunro, 47-50

  Shunsho, 26-29, 49

  Shunsui, 22

  Sotatsu, 13

  Sukenobu, 29

  Sumi-ye, 21

  Tan-ye, 21, 39

  Tanyu, 11

  Tokugawa, 13

  Torii School, 21-34

  Tosa School, 3, 4, 5, 9

  Toyoharu, 29

  Toyokuni, 33, 44

  Toyonobu, 29

  Tsunetaka, 4

  Utagawa, 29

  Utamaro, 20, 33, 35-46

  Uyeno, 50

  Yamato, 3

  Yeisen, 75

  Yeishi, 71

  Yeitoku, 9

  Yeizan, 71, 75

  Yoshiwara, 36-37

 [Illustration: Surimono: The Ride of the Warrior Miura Kenisuke. The
 inscription is a Poem he composed before setting out for Corea. By
 Yanagawa Shigenobu, the Son-in-law of Hokusai.]

*** End of this LibraryBlog Digital Book "Impressions of Ukiyo-ye, the school of the Japanese colour-print artists" ***

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