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Posted by John Fiorillo on October 18, 2002 at 18:45:27:

In Reply to: Re: John Fiorillo's VIEWING JAPANESE PRINTS; COLOUR posted by James King on October 18, 2002 at 00:39:18:

Hello, James,

First my Andon response, then color:


Andon (ISSN 0168-2997) is a quarterly publication (in English) of the Society for Japanese Arts, which does not have a website. It is a non-profit, scholarly enterprise, with the journal available to members of the society. It is not sold separately or commercially. Articles are published on all aspects of Japanese arts and crafts, but the most common subject has so far been, overwhelmingly, Japanese prints. The Eizan article appears in the last published issue (#71).

I highly recommend membership in the Society. It costs about $50.00 per year, which entitles you to future copies of the quarterly Andon, occasional special publications by the associated Hans Kaempfer Fund, and a newsletter (approx. monthly) of useful information about exhibits around the world, books, etc. If you want to join, contact:

Robert Schaap
Mr. Pankenstraat 12
5571 CP Bergeyk
The Netherlands

Tell him you heard about the Society from me, as an "introduction" is needed from a current member.

To give you some idea of the sort of special issues that are produced, there have been monographs entitled 'Hokusai's Shga ichiran' and 'Meeting once more: Inr and their design drawings'. The next Kaempfer Fund publication, due out presently, is one that I have been involved in directly as an invited editor and contributor. It will be a memorial issue honoring Matsudaira Susumu (1933-2000), the foremost scholar on Osaka printmaking. There will be 8 articles, authored by John Carpenter, Jan van Doesburg, Drew Gerstle, Roger Keyes, Kitakawa Hiroko, Hendrick Luhl, Nakade Akifumi / Peter Ujlaki, and John Fiorillo / Peter Ujlaki.


This is a thorny issue. A universal color grading scale such as yours would be helpful, though it does not differ significantly from my grading scale for quality and condition (including color): Grading. Even so, such scales involve subjectivity while demanding substantial knowledge and experience with "color" (perceived hue or what we "see") in Japanese prints. While we can measure luminosity (brightness) of color, assessing the amount of fading is difficult because we do not know how bright the pigment was in its pristine state, nor often what colorant was used (the material used to produce a pigment or dye).

Colorants in Japanese printmaking were harvested from vegetal, mineral, animal, or synthetic matter, and the pigments and dyes were made by hand. So, for example, even when completely fresh, the "color" of one yellow may not have been the same as the next. Was a particular yellow colorant derived from tumeric, gamboge, cherry apple, amur cork tree, bayberry, miscanthus, gardenia, pagoda tree, or some other source? Even when the colorant was the same among some print designs, preparation of the pigment by hand resulted in variable intensity (lightness, brightness, luminance), depth (concentration, penetration, or coverage of a colorant), and saturation (purity of a color; e.g., a deep red made from safflower is more saturated than its diluted version for producing pink). In addition, the color of the paper will have an effect on translucent colors (a few were opaque and not affected by the paper matrix). If the paper is toned, translucent colors will change in appearance.

So while we can say that one print has a brighter yellow than the next, how do we know where each yellow began? It is even possible that in some cases, where the original colors varied in luminance, depth, and saturation, a bright yellow is MORE faded than a slightly less bright yellow in the next example if the latter is almost perfectly preserved while the former is a bit faded.

Still, what most people are talking about when referring to fading is the current brightness or luminance of color, which they compare either to some known alternate impression in fine state or some standard for the same color on prints of the same period. This is an admittedly imprecise methodology. They do not care so much about what the intensity was when it was first applied to the print, but rather how it looks today, and they then compare it to other similar specimens. If all the colors on a print seem intense with the hues uncompromised, they generally say the prints are unfaded or their colors "fine." Terms like "good" and "very good" become less precise because the scale constitutes a continuum, not a discrete series of intervals.

I agree that descriptions about color can be annoyingly inconsistent. That's just the way of the world, whether from inequality of knowledge, differences in subjective assessments, or error. A dealer or auction house may say a certain print has good color even when it actually suffers from some fading because, relatively speaking, it does have "good" color. Even if the fading is there for all to observe, perfect specimens, especially of the 18th through early 19th centuries, are so increasingly uncommon that moderately compromised color seems even better than it truly is. Had the same dealers or auction houses made the assessment a century ago, their judgments would have been based on a higher standard because greater numbers of well-preserved prints were available.



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