Page:A history of Japanese colour-prints by Woldemar von Seidlitz.djvu/277

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THE CULMINATION: KIYONAGA

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tations, closely interconnected in their parts, which henceforward achieved an ever greater vogue. Of Kiyonaga it is really true to say what many collectors seek to persuade themselves of in respect to such fragments in general, that his sheets have been so composed in the beginning that, according to choice or necessity, they may be used singly, or in pairs, or as triptychs; although, as a rule, the full effect intended by the artist is only attained in the complete composition. The colour strives as little as the drawing for independent effect in Kiyonaga's work, for it too aims only at giving clear and graceful expression to the object; but in its plainness and simplicity it contributes as much toward the general effect of monumental greatness as does the design. Unfortunately, it is especially in the works of Kiyonaga that the colours have seldom retained their full strength, whether on account of their chemical composition, or because the sheets were much in request as wall decorations and have therefore been much exposed to the decomposing action of the sunlight; on their greatly faded appearance is probably based the idea that in the reduction of colour to the merest trace we may recognise a refinement purposely introduced by the artist.

All these qualities that result from a beautiful equilibrium of forces would doubtless have given the master an eminent historical position even without the addition of any pronounced originality, though they would not alone have lifted him to the first rank of the artists of his country. But a still more important quality of Kiyonaga's work consists in the singular charm which emanates from his creations, and which, in contrast with the effeminacy prevailing in most of the works of his predecessors, may be designated as the breath of an eminently virile spirit, sure of itself, and aspiring to high achievements. Without aiming at any special charm or refinement of soul-portrayal, that is, without informing his figures with any strong emotion,