Page:A history of Japanese colour-prints by Woldemar von Seidlitz.djvu/87

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Survey of Painting


subordinate, and of laying all the emphasis upon skill in giving as perfect a picture as possible with a few bold powerful strokes, that is to say, in getting the utmost effect out of the contrast of black and white. This economy of means has always remained the characteristic of Chinese painting.[1]

Although the first Japanese painter of whom we have actual knowledge, Kanaoka, does not appear until the end of the ninth century, everything points to the fact that he represents the culmination of the first great epoch of Japanese art, and not, as one might suppose, the beginning of real Japanese painting. For the little that we know of his work and of Japanese art of the preceding seventh and eighth centuries, especially of sculpture, bronze and wood-carving, suggests the conclusion that this young and vigorous nation had rapidly built up an art of its own, full of power and expression. Although, to begin with, the forms represented in painting remained at first foreign—Korean, Chinese, and Buddhistic—the contents of the representation must have been purely Japanese, corresponding to the high standard of culture that the country had achieved. Otherwise, Kanaoka would not have been able to preserve through all the succeeding ages the fame of having been the greatest Japanese painter; for it is not possible to attain to such a height by mere imitation of a foreign art. At the beginning of the ninth century, Buddhism had already been completely absorbed into the national point of view, and so was reconciled to the dominant creed of Shintoism.

To this early period, comprising the seventh and eighth centuries, which is known as the Nara period (so called after Nara, then the capital city, with its new High Street and new gates), belong the following works among others: the well-known full-length portrait of Prince Shotoku with two boys (Kokkwa, 78),

  1. Bing in the Revue blanche (1896), p. 164. Binyon, Painting in the Far East (1908).