Page:A history of Japanese colour-prints by Woldemar von Seidlitz.djvu/355

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Hokusai is in Europe the most popular of all Japanese artists; for a long time indeed Europeans were inclined to regard him as the greatest. He plays an important part in the history of Japanese wood-engraving, by virtue both of the peculiarity of his talent and of the influence that he exerted during a long and laborious life; nevertheless, to the masters of the eighteenth century he does not attain. It is just those peculiarities which are new in him and his work, and which make it appear so familiar, indeed almost akin, to the European eye—namely, realism without style or subordination of the observation of nature to any higher artistic conception—it is just these that brought upon him in his own country the disregard under which he had to suffer during his lifetime. We, for our part, have no desire to join in either panegyric or condemnation. Looked at from the European point of view, Hokusai certainly displays a richness of invention, a keenness of observation, and a sureness of touch which we could find but little to match; and even from the Japanese point of view, we must admit that during the first decades of his activity, from about 1790 to 1805, he stands worthily beside Yeishi, Utamaro, and Toyokuni, producing graceful work of an individual stamp; what he created later during his best period, from about 1815 to 1835, in the field of landscape, animal representation, and still life, surpasses anything of the kind that has been produced in Japan in the nineteenth century. To speak truth, however, he never ad-