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NOTES BY THE EDITOR. (concluded)


With these elementary factors of materials, tools, and appliances, the similarity between Japanese and sixteenth century European woodcutting ends, however, and further examination discloses differences of a very marked kind.

It is well-known that the work of the old European wood-cutters is essentially black-line facsimile, i.e., the reproduction, more or less faithfully, of drawings in black lines, generally pen-and-ink drawings, on a light ground. It was this limitation which threw the wood-cut out of the race with the other reproductive arts, until it was enabled to enter the lists again after it had been transformed into wood-engraving. The wood-cutters and printers of Europe did, indeed, attempt to produce color effects as early as 1457, this being the year in which appeared Fust and Schoeffer's Psalter, the first dated printed book, so far as we know, and at the same time the first dated piece of color- printing. This, however, was merely work of a decorative character. The first pictures really printed in colors are Cranach's chiaroscuros, the oldest of which are dated 1506, and, of works printed in positive colors, Jost de Negker's portrait of Jacob Fugger, about 1512, and Altdorfer's Beautiful Maria of Ratisbonne, about 1519. But of these two kinds of productions, only the first, the chiaroscuros (clairobscurs, Helldunkel) - that is to say, imitations of India ink and sepia drawings and other monochromes - came largely into use during the sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth centuries, while the attempts to introduce printing from relief blocks in positive colors, although renewed from time to time, never succeeded to any extent, so that it may be said even to-day that chromoxylography is practiced only occasionally, except for such coarse work as advertisements, show bills, etc. [*7]

The Japanese, as a matter of course, have also produced and still produce facsimiles of drawings in black lines, but owing, possibly, to the fact that their artists use the brush instead of the pen or some still more unyielding point, they were soon led to attempt the reproduction of washed drawings, not only in black and grays, but also in positive colors. Their earliest productions of this kind do not, indeed, according to Prof. Fenollosa, go back beyond about the year 1745, [*8] but they made up for their later appearance in the field by a prodigious activity and a superb facility of execution - within the limitations of their art - that far outstripped the isolated achievements of their earlier European colleagues.

We have seen that, according to Mr. Tokuno, the highest aim of Japanese chromoxylography is the imitation of the original, even to the sweep of the brush, so close that an inexperienced eye shall find it difficult to tell the printed counterfeit from the painting made by the. hand of the artist, and it must be admitted that the wood cutters and printers of Japan have been wonderfully successful in their efforts, not only in the reproduction of black-and-whites, for which, also, several printings are generally used, but quite as much with designs in color. It is true, certainly, that Japanese painting lends itself more easily to deceptive imitation than European painting; but there is still another cause to be assigned for the success of Japanese color-printing in this respect, and that is the method of printing practiced by the Japanese, or, more correctly speaking, their method of charging ("inking") the block. [*9]

The old printers of Europe, (down to the beginning of this century, inked their blocks with printer's balls, such as are shown in Fig. 5, reproduced from Jost Amman's "Charta Lusoria," published at Kuremberg in the year 1588. The custom of the present day is to use elastic rollers, made of a mass consisting of glue, molasses, etc. On our steam presses the inking is also done by rollers. The ink used in all cases is linseed-oil varnish, with which the pigment has been ground up. Water-colors have, indeed, been tried for printing occasionally, but practically without success, except for the printing of wall papers. The Japanese printers, on the contrary, so far as they have not been affected by European methods, use nothing but water-colors, and instead of balls or rollers they employ brushes, that is to say, they paint their blocks. There is a very obvious advantage in the use of water-colors by the Japanese printers, as all the originals to be imitated by them are painted in water colors. It is evident that the brilliancy and quality of the pigments are the same in original and copy, while the pigments which we use for our chromoxylographic and chromolitbographic printing, being mixed with linseed-oil varnish, are affected by it in their purity as well as in their surface quality. The use of a brush instead of a roller for inking the blocks is also a factor of great importance. The brush is a pliable instrument, capable of expression in the hands of an intelligent being. The roller, on the contrary, even in the hands of the most skilled printer, is much less pliable, and on the steam press it is without any pliancy. This quality has, indeed, be come a merit in the steam press, so that it is now looked upon as more reliable than the hand press. But this is true only in so far as uniformity of result in the impressions is concerned. The artist can do nothing with it, while with a bare block or plate and a brush full of color he can do wonders. We have seen this of late years in the renewed development of the monotype, and it may, indeed, be said of Japanese printing that it involves, at least in its best productions, the principle of the monotype. It follows from this that the Japanese printer must be something of an artist. In the words of Mr. Tokuno, he must have the skill to produce "the various hues and shades with printing brushes, in precisely the same way as the water-color painters do."

As the color is laid on the block with the brush, the facilities offered by this tool can, as a matter of course, be utilized, and are utilized to their fullest extent, by the Japanese printer. He can deposit more or less pigment on the block, according as he may need a stronger or a more delicate tint, and he can even produce gradations on it quite independent of the wood-cutter; that is to say, on a perfectly flat block. All the gradations from light to dark seen in Japanese color-prints are the result of the printer's brush used on the block, assisted sometimes, it is said, by wiping with the finger. The roller which we use for inking our blocks is not capable of producing such gradations, as it deposits a uniform film of ink all over the surface. The consequence is that with us the gradations are produced by the engraver, who cuts away more and more of the wood, either in lines or in dots, as he proceeds from dark through lighter tints to white, while the Japanese wood cutter furnishes to the printer blocks which are solid even in those parts which in the impression are to be gradated. It follows that what we call "engraved tints," either flat or gradated, are never seen in purely Japanese wood-cuts. The blocks offer nothing but flat masses, and such lines as appear in them serve merely to bring out the forms, patterns of stuffs, textures, etc. Whenever a European engraver has to render a sky gradated simply from a darker blue, through lighter tints downward, and finally merging into a tint so light that he must express it by white, he cuts a series of white lines, narrower and farther apart where the color is to be strongest, and gradually increasing in width and nearness as it decreases in strength, until, where the white paper is to show, he cuts away all the wood. His Japanese colleague, on the contrary, gives the printer a flat block, on which those parts merely are cut away which correspond to objects seen against the sky, such as trees, mountains, houses, etc., and which, therefore, must be kept free from the blue of the sky behind them. On this block the printer paints the gradations needed, and if he can not get a satisfactory result with one printing, he uses the same block twice, only varying the "inking." In the picture "Yinaka genji," for instance, the sky is printed once with a gradation reaching from the top of the picture to about the middle of the sky, and again a second time with a gradation reaching considerably farther down. It is evident that the upper part of the sky may thus be strengthened, and the gradual shading-off into the white along the horizon made still more gradual.

From what has just been said, it is apparent that the same block may be used twice on the same picture. This is true not only of the printing of skies, but the same device is resorted to also in other parts of the design. A block may be printed in a fiat tint or color the first time, and it may then be charged a second time with another color - say a gray, but gradated, and printed on top of the first color to produce modulations. The number of planks cut for a Japanese color-print, therefore, is very far from corresponding to the number of printings. It is, moreover, reduced still further by painting the same block with different colors in different parts. These colors may, indeed, be printed at the same time, [*10] but it happens frequently that they are used. separately; that is to say, that the block, is painted and printed in part only, and then laid aside, to be taken up again later and painted on those parts which were left uninked before. Thus of the three sheets which together make up the picture "Yinaka genji," the first has 25 impressions, the second 26, the third 23. Of blocks used, however, there are only 13 for the first, 10 for the second, and 14 for the third, or 37 cuts, executed on 21 planks, for 74 printings.

It is seen from the number of impressions needed for the completion of the picture just alluded to, that the Japanese printers are not bent on saving labor in this respect, a fact which is occasionally shown in a most curious manner, as when a single pair of red lips is printed by itself in a flat red, although several other red blocks are used for the. same picture. From 23 to 26 impressions for a print like "Yinaka genji," seems to us an excessive number. Even for a refined, although brilliant fruit piece, like "Nandina domestica," 33 printings impresses us as extraordinary, in spite of the fact that the use of flat blocks makes it necessary to multiply them so as to produce the desired gradations. With our means of producing gradations by either wood-engraving or lithographing, 8 to 10 printings would be considered a large number for the reproduction of an original of similar character. But even 33 is not the highest number of impressions used. I am informed by Prof. Fenollosa that as many as 120 impressions were used lately on a reproduction of a Japanese water-color painting, although the number was considerably reduced in the printing of a subsequent edition of the same picture by a different manipulation of the blocks. It may be of interest to state here, for the sake of comparison, that the highest number of printings used on our most complicated chromolithographs is about fifty.

From the statement by Mr. Tokuno concerning the pigments used in characteristically Japanese color-printing, i. e., blue, yellow, and red, besides black and white, it would seem as if the whole system of this kind of printing were based upon the old three-color theory, which prevailed also with the early chromochalcographic and chromolithographic printers of Europe. It is nevertheless true that the Japanese printers do not, at present at least, produce the so-called secondary colors, green, orange, violet, by printing the so-called primaries, i. e., blue and yellow for green, yellow and red for orange, and red and blue for violet, over one another. Wherever these "secondaries" are needed - and the same observation holds good also for the "tertiaries" - they are printed by themselves, although the "primaries" which enter into them may occur in the same picture. I am again indebted to Prof. Fenollosa for having called my attention to the fact that the printing of the "primaries" over one another to produce the "secondaries" does, indeed, occur in the earlier work of the Japanese printers, but it is evident that it has now been abandoned. As subdued and broken colors were mainly used in the earlier Japanese color-prints, while the modern show a decided preference for brilliant and even glaring coloring, it is quite likely that this printing of the "primaries" over one another, which with us is considered a decided advantage, more especially in cheaper and simpler grades of work, as it saves time and money, was given up, even in such work as the printing of pictures for fans, for the sake of the more brilliant effects which can be produced by mixing the pigments themselves.

This brings us to another point of great importance, and that is the little care had by the Japanese wood-cutters and printers for labor-saving devices and mechanical aids. "Our arts of engraving and printing," says Mr. Tokuno in one of his letters, "rely entirely upon experience, with no, or very slight mechanical assistance." The manual skill, which has grown out of this reliance upon experience and disdain for mechanical aids, is truly marvelous. It is difficult to believe that all Japanese wood-cutting, even to the finest lines in the most delicate black-and-white facsimile work, is done with the one clumsy knife represented in Fig. 1. We know from Papillon's book that he found it necessary to use three grades of knives, according to the grade of work to be executed, and we naturally arrive at the conclusion that the Japanese wood-cutter also accommodates his knife to his work. Nevertheless, Mr. Tokuno replies to a direct question on this point: "Our engraving on wood depends wholly on the skill of the engravers. With only one knife, such as that sent you, they can execute all grades of work, from the roughest to the finest. We therefore have no other kind of knife." [Ed. note]

The answers given to questions regarding the difficulties which confront the Japanese printer, and which to us would seem insurmountable, are of the same tenor. It seems impossible to prevent smearing, with blocks having great shallow hollows, inked with a brush, and therefore charged with color, not only on the parts left standing in relief, but also in the depressions, and with the thin moist paper used, held down on the plank with one hand, while the other guides the "baren". To the question whether any special precautions are adopted to prevent smearing, Mr. Tokuno replies: "Although smearing from the depressions in the block seems almost unavoidable, experienced printers, nevertheless, work without fear of it, and there is no special way of preventing it." Again, to the question whether mechanical means are not used for registering, the reply is: "Our printers use no mechanical means whatever, depending simply upon experience." To illustrate this point, a water-color drawing was sent, of which Plate XIII is a reproduction. To the inquiry, how it is possible to print with water-colors on moist paper, keep the paper moist to prevent contraction, and lay the sheets on top of one another without offsetting, the answer given is: "This can only be done well by an experienced printer," to which laconic statement a few technical points are added, which have already been given in Mr. Tokuno's communication.

A visitor to the U. S. National Museum, who sees, for the first time, and without explanation, the exhibit of Japanese wood-cutting and wood-cut printing, the whole (except the printed specimens and the drawings illustrating tools, etc.) crowded into a case measuring about 4 by 3 1/4 by 2 1/2 feet, will most probably take it for granted that he has before him a collection of miniature models. In this assumption he would, however, be grossly mistaken. Considerably more room would, of course, be needed to arrange the tools, etc., for practical working use, but both the tools and the materials shown are actually those employed by the wood-cutters and printers of Japan. It needs only to think of the heavy machinery used by our printers, even by those who confine themselves to taking proofs for wood-engravers, to realize the contrast between the methods of Japan and our own. Other occasions for comparing these methods have been brought out by the questions addressed to Mr. Tokuno, as given above, and the answers returned by him. The contrast becomes still more marked when we recall, for instance, the methods of preparing colors described by Mr. Tokuno. It is true, no doubt, that, influenced by us, the Japanese are coming to depend more and more on machinery, but it is also true that by their old and simple methods, trusting to their experience, their skill, and their artistic feeling, they have produced the best of their work, in which their national characteristics have found their most original expression. Nor have they, according to Mr. Tokuno's statements, suffered in productiveness in consequence of their methods. The short time spent in cutting the 37 planks needed for the printing of "Yinaka genji," i. e., twenty days, is astonishing enough in spite of the simplicity of the blocks, but our astonishment increases to wonder when we read of the number of impressions made per day by the Japanese printers, and consider at the same time the tedious methods employed in charging the block with color. As I feared a misunderstanding on my part of the figures given by Mr. Tokuno, I asked him to consider my interpretation of his statements, and in reply the original figures were confirmed, viz., 3,000 sheets per day of about eight hours from the black block, and 700 to 800 sheets per day from the color blocks of "Yinaka genji," and on an average 943 sheets per day of "Nandina domestica," the number varying from 1,800 for the simplest to 600 for the most difficult blocks. It is impossible to make a direct comparison between the productivity of the Japanese and our own printers, as the methods differ too radically, and as long editions of wood-engravings are but very rarely printed nowadays on the hand-press. The following figures will nevertheless be of some interest: Mr. Thos. H. Brennan, wood engraving proof-printer, of Boston, assures me that 250 impressions from a block measuring 11 by 14 inches and 350 from one measuring 5 by 7 inches is a fair average for a working day of nine hours. This is, of course, for first-class work and for first-class engraving. Messrs. L. Prang & Co., the well known chromolithographers, also of Boston, write me that the number of impressions which a lithographic printer prints on the hand-press, whether it be from a crayon stone or a pen- and-ink stone, in black or in colors, varies from 175 to 250 per day of nine hours, and that 200 would be considered a good average. [Ed. note]

It goes without saying that the Japanese methods described above are not suitable for application to our art. A complicated sky, for instance, with all its wealth of delicate tints, such as we find it in the works of our best landscape painters, or the human countenance, expressive of the deepest emotions of the soul, as our best figure painters set it up before us, can be interpreted for us by the skill of our wood engravers, and even their coloring can be successfully approached by our color-printing processes in their most refined development, but they can never be rendered by means of flat blocks, even when painted in delicate gradations by the most skilled of Japanese printers. In trying to arrive at an estimate of Japanese color-printing, it must not be forgotten, therefore, that problems like those just alluded to are never offered to the Japanese reproductive artists. The originals which they are asked, not to interpret, but rather to imitate, or the original color- prints which they produce, are, indeed, exceedingly beautiful, and worthy of attentive study as giving embodiment to the ideals of a highly gifted people, moving in an intellectual atmosphere quite different from our own, but it remains true, nevertheless, that they are purely and frankly conventional. Looking at the technical side of the question only, it may be said that it is this fact which has enabled the Japanese wood-cutters and printers to find methods answering their wants almost to perfection. In a more searching study of Japanese art, other conditions would, indeed, also have to be considered, but their discussion would be out of place in a report like the present, which is of necessity limited to a statement of facts.

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