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LATER TOKUGAWA PERIOD
THE Tokugawas, in their eagerness for consolidation and discipline, crushed out the vital spark from art and life. It was only their educational institutions which in later days reached the lower classes, and to some slight extent redeemed these defects.
In their prime of power, the whole of society — and art was not exempt — was cast in a single mould. The spirit which secluded Japan from all foreign intercourse, and regulated every daily routine, from that of the daimyo to that of the lowest peasant, narrowed and cramped artistic creativeness also.
The Kano academies — filled with the disciplinary instincts of Iyeyasu — of which four were under the direct patronage of the Shoguns and sixteen under the Tokugawa government, were constituted on the plan of regular feudal tenures. Each academy had its hereditary lord, who followed his profession, and, whether or not he was an indifferent artist, had under him students who flocked from various parts of the country, and who were, in their turn, official painters to different daimyos in the provinces. After graduating at Yedo (Tokyo), it was de rigueur for these students, returning to the country, to conduct their work there on the methods and according to the models given them during instruction. The students who were not vassals of daimyos were, in a sense, hereditary fiefs of the Kano lords. Each had to pursue the course of studies laid down by Tannyu and Tsunenobu, and each painted and drew certain subjects in a certain manner. From this routine, departure meant ostracism, which would reduce the artist to the position of a common craftsman, for he would not in that case be allowed to retain the distinction of wearing two swords. Such a condition of things could not but be detrimental to originality and excellence.
Besides the Kanos, the house of Tosa, with its younger branch, Sumiyoshi, was re-established with hereditary honours at the beginning of the Tokugawa rule, but the Tosa inspiration and tradition had been lost ever since the days of Mitsunobu, who had clung heroically to his old school during the Ashikaga period. In thus standing out against the national stream, he had shown a weakness, it is true. Yet we must not forget that, when all other artists were painting in ink, he had still maintained the glorious tradition of colour. The new Tosa School, however, imitated only the mannerisms of their ancestors, and any vitality which they threw into this was reflected from the work of the Kanos, as the pictures of Mitsuoki and Gukei show.
The sordid aristocracy of the day looked upon all this as natural, for their own lives were regulated on the same basis. The son would order a picture from a contemporary Kano or Tosa as his father had done from the preceding academician. Meanwhile, the life of the people was entirely apart. Their loves and aspirations were utterly different, though their round of existence was equally stereotyped. Forbidden the high honours of the court and intercourse with aristocratic society, they sought their freedom in mundane pleasures, in the theatre, or in the gay life of Yoshiwara. And as their literature forms another world from that of the writings of the Samurai, so their art expresses itself in the delineation of gay life and in the illustration of theatrical celebrities.
The Popular School, which was their only expression, though it attained skill in colour and drawing, lacks that ideality which is the basis of Japanese art. Those charmingly coloured wood-cuts, full of vigour and versatility, made by Outamaro, Shunman, Kionobu, Harunobu, Kionaga, Toyokuni, and Hokusai, stand apart from the main line of development of Japanese art, whose evolution has been continuous ever since the Nara period. The inros, the netsukis, the sword-guards, and the delightful lacquer-work articles of the period, were playthings, and as such no embodiment of national fervour, in which all true art exists. Great art is that before which we long to die. But the art of the late Tokugawa period only allowed a man to dwell in the delights of fancy. It is because the prettiness of the works of this period first came to notice, instead of the grandeur of the masterpieces hidden in the daimyos' collections and the temple treasures, that Japanese art is not yet seriously considered in the West.
The bourgeois art of Yedo (Tokyo), under the dread shadow of the Shoguns, was limited thus to a narrow round of expression. It was due to the freer atmosphere of Kyoto that another and higher form of democratic art was evolved. Kyoto, where the imperial seat remained, was on that account comparatively free from the Tokugawa discipline, for the Shoguns dared not assert themselves here as openly as in Yedo and in other parts of the country. Here it was, therefore, that scholars and freethinkers flocked to take refuge, so making it, a century and a half later, the fulcrum on which would turn the lever of the Meiji restoration. It was here that artists who disdained the Kano yoke could venture to indulge in wilful deviations from tradition, here that the rich middle classes could permit themselves to admire their originality. Here was Busson trying to formulate a new style by illustrating the popular poetry; here was Watanabe-Shiko, who tried to revive Korin's style, and Shohaku, who, with Blake-like instinct, revelled in wild imagery based on Jasoku of the Ashikaga period; and here, finally, was Jakuchu, a fanatic, who loved to paint impossible birds.
Kyoto, however, had two real influences. First was the introduction and revival of the later Ming (1368-1662) and earlier Manchu-Shin style, which had been inaugurated in China by dilettantes and æsthetes, who considered a painting to be worthless when it came from the hands of a professional, and prized the playful sketches of a great scholar above the works of a master-artist. In its own way, even this must be understood as a demonstration of the immense power of the Chinese mind in breaking away from the formalism of the Gen academic style imposed during the Mongol dynasty. Artists from Kyoto crowded to Nagasaki, the one port then open, to study from Chinese traders this new style, already hardened into mannerism before it reached Japan.
The second important effort of Kyoto was the study which it initiated of European realistic art. Matteo-Ricci had been a Roman Catholic missionary, who had entered China during the Ming dynasty, and given the impulse which had now made the new school of Realism prominent in the cities at the mouth of the Yang-tse. Chinnan-ping, a Chinese artist of this school who was noted for his birds and flowers, resided in Nagasaki for three years, and laid the foundation of the Natural School of Kyoto.
Dutch prints were eagerly sought and copied, and Maruyama Okio, the founder of the Maruyama School, devoted himself in his youth to copying them. It is pathetic to note that he copied the lines of the engravings with his brush. It was due to this artist that the movement was brought to a focus, for he, with an early Kano training, was able to combine the new methods with a style of his own. He was an ardent student of nature, serving her moods in all their detail, and his delicacy and softness and exquisite gradation of effects on silk give him his right to be called the representative artist of this period.
Goshun, his rival, the founder of the Shijo School, follows closely in his steps, though his Chinese mannerisms of later Ming differentiate him.
Ganku, another realist, ancestor of the Kisshi School, differs from the first two by his closer similarity to Chinnan-ping.
These three streams of tendency together constitute the modern Kyoto School of Realism. They sound a different note from the Kanos, yet, with all their dexterity and skill, they also fail to catch the truly national element in art, as their brethren in Yedo failed to do in the Popular School. Their works are delightful and full of grace, but never grasp the essential character of the subject as Sesshu and other artists used to do. The occasions when Okio rises to great heights are when he reverts unconsciously to those methods which governed the old masters.
Kyoto art, since the death of these three great workers, consists only of attempts by their followers to combine in different proportions the individual excellence of their respective styles. Yet, up to the rise of contemporary Japanese art, in the second decade of the Meiji restoration in 1881, the Kyoto artists were the leading creative spirits in pictorial art.
Kano Academies. — These owe their name to a family of artists who were appointed painters-in-ordinary to the Tokugawas.
Inros. — Small lacquer medicine-cases, to be hung on the obi or girdle.
Netsukis. — Ornamental buttons by which the inro or the tobacco-pouch was hung.