Page:Japanese Wood Engravings.djvu/33

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23
JAPANESE WOOD ENGRAVINGS

early specimens are in existence, and it may be doubted whether the so-called colour prints were not ordinary prints from a single block coloured by hand, after the manner of the Hogen Monogatari and the books of Hishigawa Moronobu, to which reference has already been made. The point is not of great moment, for although it is very probable that a few rude efforts were made at the time mentioned, it was not until about 1710 that the process assumed any artistic or industrial importance. It was then that an artist of the artisan class named Torii Kiyonobu, whose name must be set side by side with that of Hishigawa Moronobu in a place of honour, began to supply portraits of famous actors and pictures of various subjects of interest to the theatre-goer of Yedo, which were engraved upon three blocks and printed in black, pale green or blue, and pale pink; and originated a phase of popular art that took a special place in the favour of the people, and was destined to undergo great development.

Torii Kiyonobu must be regarded as the founder of the theatrical school of popular art, for no theatrical broadsides of artistic value are known to have been issued before his time. He was moreover a designer of playbills and of illustrations for the quaint little novelettes called Kusa-zoshi (see page 49), which were published in considerable numbers about the same time, and he is said to have been the inventor of the style of stage scenery still in vogue in the theatres of Tokyo and Kyoto. Few of the prints bearing his name have been preserved, but these are sufficient to show that he was an artist of great ability, and that his works were the model which governed the manner of the broadsheet designer of the next two generations, and influenced the whole of his successors down to the present day. He was born in 1688, and his work appears to have extended from about 1710 to about 1730, but the date of his death is unknown. One of his sheets, printed from two blocks only, was exhibited at the Burlington Fine Arts Club in 1888, together with a novelette bearing his signature. The former gave a very favourable impression of his power.

The broadside artists did not confine their attention to the theatre. In addition to portraits of actors and scenes of theatre, subjects of all kinds were treated in single sheet pictures. Portraits of wrestlers and of well-known personages of the courtesan class, pictures of women and