PANEGERYIC READ BY MR. YONE NOGUCHI ON
THE OCCASION OF THE EXHIBITION.
TRANSLATED BY HIMSELF.
The time was late afternoon of a day in April some fourteen or fifteen years ago (I wonder if anywhere in the world but in Japan in spring one could have such a feeling as if drinking sadness from the cup of joy), when I, greatly troubled by the modern life in the West - I was only just returned from America where I lived for quite a long time - from an eager desire to gain a true sense of perspective towards Nature, glided down the flower-reflecting water by Mukojima with two or three souls like myself, carried by a "Cherry-blossom-viewing boat." I confess that I used then to see anything and everything through my westernized "blue eyes" and even cursed the degenerated Japan in meaningless foolish imitation of the West ; but now seeing the calmly-settled deep blue of this Sumida River whereon we were gliding, and thinking that it was the very blue like that of an old Japanese colour-print, my westernized "blue eyes" suddenly changed, I felt, into Japanese black eyes. The blue of the Japanese colour-prints up to the time of Hokusai and Hiroshige is, unlike the western blue pigment which is glad to mix with another colour to make life active, a thing highly homogeneous, therefore a colour as it was before it knew any other colour to mix with. Thus baptised under the blue of the Sumida River in late afternoon of one spring day, I ceased at once to be a westerner, and my mind entered slowly into a pictorial domain of Hiroshige, and smiled upon myself that I was certainly affected like Mr. Happer who cried, "Hiro-Hiro-Hiroshige the Great!" How many pictures Hiroshige drew with the Sumida River as subject! Before my imaginary eyes, several horizontal pictures of "Toto Meisho" depicting the sight of Mukojima appeared as if a revolving lantern; when thinking about the particular one entitled Sumidagawa Hanazakari or the "Sumida River in Glory of Blossom," this very Mukojima beautifully coloured by the cherry-blossoms began to look to me just like that picture of Hiroshige. I could not help exclaiming, in spite of myself, "Why, Nature imitates Art as Wilde once exclaimed, - the Mukojima of to-day imitates Hiroshige's picture of olden time!"
I and my friends, now gliding through the delightful sights of the Sumida River which Hiroshige loved so dearly and drew in his many pictures, argued, discussed and again expanded on how the human mind has been advancing lately artistically. There is no doubt that our minds (yours as well as mine) are glad to imitate a rare respectable art whenever they see it. You will think, I am sure, it is nothing so strange that my mind so full of Hiroshige's pictures could not help seeing the views right before myself as nothing but pictures of Hiroshige. It is not true that the "Mukojima of to-day imitated Hiroshige's picture of olden time"; the fact is that my own poor mind was imitating the art of Hiroshige. To say differently, Hiroshige awakened suddenly in my mind; and again to use another expression, we (you as well as I) are all an artist called Hiroshige at least for landscape art, - just as it is said, we are all Hamlet, men and women. As we are already all Hiroshige, we can naturally be moved by him and feel with his art as if our own creation. A Hiroshige hidden in our own minds found our representative artist in the real Hiroshige who was born in 1797 and died in 1858; he is, in truth, the only one native and national artist of Japan.
I said just now that we, as Japanese, are all Hiroshige; and there even in the West are many persons who would be pleased to call themselves a Hiroshige like ourselves. Whistler, for example, the most famous among them. George Moore once remarked that art is born in parochialism and dies in universalism; though it is a striking expression quite natural to his literary fibre, such language should be taken, I think, only as an emphasis upon the value of true parochialism. The stars, flowers and moon, real in Japan, are equally real stars, flowers and moon in the West; the pictures of Hiroshige true in Japan would be equally true even when brought into the very centres of London and Paris, - I mean that among the landscapes of London and Paris will be found this native artist of Japan, Hiroshige, hidden under the surface. And a great western artist who happened to touch first with the hidden Hiroshige in the West was Whistler himself; just like us Japanese, he was also a Hiroshige, and with Hiroshige's eye, Whistler looked and gazed on the views by the Thames. As a result that he saw Nature through Hiroshige's eye for his own western landscape art, he, this great Whistler, created the rare, peculiar pictorial effect of his own.
The western landscape art, from that of Constable and Corot to that of late Sir Alfred East, would be called the product of an environment, because of its lack of a certain dash in abstraction or quintessences. However splendidly it is drawn, it will never escape from the details of incidental phenomena, since it is always too closely attached to reality. The general landscape painting of the West, I dare say, follows usually after the path or so-called stock-in-trade (large well-balanced masses of trees in the undulating foreground, and a long stretch of stream near by, and then a vista of sky and some disturbed clouds beyond, something of a view like that), which was justified for many years; it is not like Hiroshige's pictures where individuality of Nature is suddenly seen isolated from the entire; the art that a Herculean artistic arm grasped in a moment of rare special gesticulation of Nature, to use Whistler's classic remark, is "creeping up a bit." The word "composition" the Western artists fondly use, just like "harmony" for musicians and "meter" for poets, is uncertain, vague and often neutral in its own meaning; it always betrays the real individual expression of Nature. It is my opinion that a true landscape artist should respect the word "isolation" but not "composition;" by that I mean that he must see the natural phenomena in a striking special moment when, being isolated, it flatly refuses to move and act in uniformity with the other phenomena. Such an artist was our Hiroshige. His now famous pictures, all of them are the things that transmit and convey the rare individuality that Nature revealed in her blessed isolation. His art, following after a cardinal principle of architecture, that is "concentration," discarded off-hand all the extraneous small details which were apt to blur and weaken the important vividness; his handling of this secret of "concentration" (of course it was never Hiroshige's alone in our world of Oriental art) was quite marvelous. Therefore he was extremely suggestive at his very best. The western landscape art, whether it be above photograph or beneath photograph, attempts usually to imitate Nature or to take her copy; the artist may become a softvoiced lover toward Nature, but not a conqueror wildly waging an artistic battle against her is he. The better landscape artist of the West might become a theoriser of pigments or something of a metaphysician or, as Alfred East was, a writer of prose-poems; but since he is often bound by the common circumspect knowledge, and seldom escapes from such an old habit in expressing some meaning or purpose, it is natural that he fails to create a poetical landscape picture whose life is nothing but suggestion. Enter into Nature, and forget her. Again, depict Nature, and transcend her. I like to interpret such phrases by saying that one should be like Hiroshige himself who paid no attention to the small inessential details, when he grasped firmly the most important point of Nature which he had wished before to see, hold and draw. To transfer such a moment one has only to depend on the power of suggestion; surely there is no other method than that. It was Whistler who saw clearly this point first in the West; his distinguished service in becoming a great believer in Hiroshige (using him to advantage from his whole-hearted appreciation) at an early day when the Japanese colour-prints were practically unknown, should be recognized along with those wise critics who already recongnised Wagner and Whitman in the day when the former was ridiculed as a musician without music, the latter as a poet without poetry. It seems that my imagination's eyes see this wonderful Jimmy Whistler with Hiroshige's colour-prints right before him, now straightening up his famous spectacles on his nose, then exclaiming, "How amazing! Oh, how amazing!" I was told in London that he saw first something of Hiroshige's at a dirty Chinese tea-house by London Bridge, and again that he came in touch first with Hiroshige from a wrapper on a pound of tea; but both stories may be wrong, the truth being that Hiroshige's landscapes were sent by an insignificant western missionary strayed into old Japan, to show him some specimens of a barbarous life. At any rate, it sounds more true and real when the story is more striking and amusing. There is nothing more interesting and mysterious in the the world's annals of art than how Hiroshige entered into Europe. It is common enough to say that the real art will become the final conqueror; but Hiroshige is the best and greatest example of it. And when I muse on the phrase that life is short but art is long, I cannot help feeling choked under its sad reality.
Any suggestive art should have the idiom of expression at once vivid and simple. Every picture of Hiroshige at his best that I see, indeed, seems to be so new and impressive; and the last one is even so surprising as to leave my mind incapable for the time being of apprehension of his other pictures. One picture of his is quite enough as just one picture of any other great master of the world is enough for us; that is, is it not, the sure proof of his artistic greatness. I hear recently much about "polyphonic prose" from the American literary world ; it is but a new movement to break away from the old wearied habit and inspire into letters a living freedom, the taste and feeling of an author being its only law. Such is, I dare say, another proof that our Japanese literature is far ahead of the literature of the West; or to say differently, it hints the point that the western literature is speedily approaching the Japanese literature. Here we have Heike-mono-gatari or the "Epic of the Heike Clan." There we have the Noh plays. They are nothing but "polyphonic prose" which is supposed to be new in the West. To put aside the question of literature, and return to that of Hiroshige. It was he that fully practised amid the pigments the theory of "polyphonic prose"; he arranged and rearranged and then unified by his own special taste the realism and idealism or the reality and imagination to perfection. I might be blamed as a vague critic, if I say that any artist, whatever he be, idealist or realist or what not, is always good when he is true to his own art; but it is true, I think, that even the seeming realistic picture of Japanese art, when it is splendidly executed, is always subjective. I will say that the good picture, although it might appear idealistic superficially, is surely a work which never forgets the part of realistic expression. Hiroshige's landscapes are exactly like that. Perhaps he might be called a realist or objective artist from the point that our artistic mood is slowly but steadily led into trees, sky, rivers and mountains through his just expression of the relation between Nature and men; but who can declare that he was an artist who only and realistically followed after superficial Nature? The realistic elements of his art played successfully the most important service to bring out more distinctly the indefinable quality, which, as I have no better word, I will call atmosphere or pictorial personality; I think that it is more true to call him an idealist or subjective artist. He is the most national landscape artist of Japan; and it seems that he learned this secret from Chinese landscape art - how to avoid feminity and confusion. And then Whistler, on the other hand, learning from Hiroshige how to cut off the confused feminine reality, created here a new phase of western landscape art which combined reality and imagination with rhythmic harmony. See the picture, for instance, "Old Battersea Bridge" at the Tate Gallery, that famous nocturnal arrangement of blue and gold, of which I wrote:
"A voice of the rockets
To break the sky;
Then the flash
Only to make the darkness intense.
"Might I ever become that voice ?
The light precious, of a moment and death, is it not that of our lives?
To face only the sky, even for a moment, and forget the land,
And become a rider of the winds;
What a joy in parting from life's confusion,
To find a greater song amid the clouds.
"The voice of the rocket
Then the flash -
Is it not that of my soul born to please the people below,
And to take pain of death in her own keeping alone?"
One will easily see how this picture soars out of the superficial reality, and that again by the lovely support of realistic technique the inner poetical note heightens gracefully and rhythmically.
When we think that this particular picture was a thing which inspired Ruskin to call him a conceited wilful impostor or charlatan, we have only to wonder how blind a large majority of critics of those days were to our Oriental art; and again we cannot help wondering how speedily the western art as well as literature are, ever since, coming nearer to ours. While Ruskin sadly missed grasping a prophet's fame, Whistler presented a living instance that art only sends out his sparkling life from a struggle against vulgarity. The faithful followers of Whistler may say anything they please; but they will be unable to deny the fact that he owes many things to our Hiroshige. Now apart from the central artistic question, turn your attention to a small point in the placing of the signature. The signature for a western artist means only a sign, nothing else; how to place the signature for our Japaness artists is a serious matter, since, it is thought, it keeps an important relation with the whole picture; therefore it has been studied carefully. Whistler whose sharp tasteful curiosity saw this point, hastened to devise his own signature in the shape of a butterfly. When you see "Arrangement in Black: Portrait of Senor Pablo de Serasate," or "Portrait of Monsieur Theodore Duret," or "Portrait of the Artist" or "Arrangement in Black: Portrait of Mr. Louis Huth," it will be plain what a serious value is given by his written seal of a butterfly. Certainly it is never a question of mere signing for Whistler's picture, but quite an important part of his own art.
There are many cases in which our Japanese art or literature or what not, when seen through a westerner's blue eye, comes out suddenly revealing a strange meaning or what we never before had expected to exist. I have one instance in the words that generally pass as Hiroshige's farewell verse, saying: "I leave my brush at Azuma, and go on the journey to the Holy West to view the famous scenery there." I cannot accept it innocently, and even doubt its origin, as it is more prosaic than poetical. It is only that he followed perhaps after a common fashion of his day if he really left it when he died, as the verse itself is poor and at best only humorous; but when it is taken by the western seriousness, translated into English, the words grow to carry another strong effect. Thus Hiroshige, since discovered in the West, was interpreted and reconstructed by a decidedly new understanding; so he is to a certain great degree, a discovery or creation of the westerners. I think, therefore, it is proper (and even a courtesy) to look upon him with the western point of criticism; and Hiroshige seen through the Japanese eye would be more or less different from the "Hiroshige in the West." It goes without saying that our recent criticism of Hiroshige is pleased to put its foundation on the western opinion.
I said before that Hiroshige owes much to Chinese landscape art; and I like now to think of him as a Chinese poet. Upon my little desk here I see an old book of Chinese prosody; there is a popular Chinese verse, Shichigon Zekku, or Four Lines with Seven Words in Each, which is almost as rigid as the English sonnet; and the theory of the sonnet can be applied to that Shichigon Zekku without any modification. We generally attach an importance to the third line, calling it the line "for change," and the fourth is the conclusion; the first line is, of course, the commencing of the subject, and the second is "to receive and develop." It seems that Hiroshige's good pictures very well pass this test of Shichigon Zekku qualification. Let me pick out the pictures at random to prove my words. Here is the "Bright Sky after Storm at Awazu," one of the series called Eight Views of the Lake Biwa; in it the white sails ready to hoist in the fair breeze might be the "change" of the versification. That picture was commenced and developed with the trees and rising hills by the lake, and the conclusion is the sails now visible and then invisible far away. Now take the picture of a rainstorm on the Tokaido. Two peasants under a half-opened paper umbrella, and the Kago-bearers naked and hasty, are the "third line" of the picture; the drenched bamboo dipping all one way and the cottage roofs shivering under the threat of Nature would be the first and second lines, while this picture-poem concludes itself with the sound of the harsh oblique fall of rain upon the ground. You will see that Hiroshige's good pictures have always such a theory of composition; and he gained it, I think, from the Chinese prosody. In the East, more than in the West, art is allied to verse-making.
A certain critic of modern English poetry who believes that the unit of the true poem is not the foot, number of the syllables, the quantity, or the line, talks on the Greek word "strophe," from the point of emphasizing the necessary element of circular swing or return; and if we can interpret this strophe as obvious effort at balance or prizing of the sense of contrast, I think that Hiroshige fully and truly practised it in all the pictures of his landscape. Now take a little vertical print entitled the "Bow-Moon," one of twenty-eight moon sceneries, where the slender moon, white, in tranced ecstasy, climbs up from between the crags, as Arthur Davison Ficke writes, "straying like some lonely bride through the halls of Kubla Khan." How well-balanced is the bow-moon with the leaping torrent below in the picture. And what a pictorial contrast in these walled crags on either side, with the ghostly pilgrim of heaven between. And again how the poem inscribed on the top keeps a balance with Hiroshige's signature below on the left. This lovely rhythmic performance in art of balance is so old in the pictorial kingdom of the East; our Japanese artists, indeed all of them, have the secret of it in their blood hereditarily. But it will give certainly a valuable suggestion to the western artists.
"Hiroshige in the West" is entering, I think, into his third period, that is to mean the period of adjustment or real criticism, when his pictures hitherto unknown, what a fragment they be, will receive full justice from their artistic merits alone. The first period when he was a mere curiosity, and the second period when he suffered, as Hokusai once suffered, from an undiscriminating foolish reception, are now, I hope at least, a past story. But I feel ashamed to say that he is only entering into his second period in Japan where he was born and worked.
One more word at the end. I always say what use is there to talk on Hiroshige the Second or Third. I like to understand the word "Hiroshige " not personally, but as a very synonym or title of artistic merit in landscape pictures. If there are pieces, as in fact there are many examples, much below the Hiroshige merit, while bearing his own signature, I shall never care (who will care?) whether they are called the work of the Second or Third.