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18th Century Portraits of Japanese Kabuki Actors by Toshusai Sharaku (21 images)

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Toshusai Sharaku; active 1794–1795, was a Japanese ukiyo-e print designer, known for his portraits of kabuki actors. Neither his true name nor the dates of his birth or death are known.

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His active career as a woodblock artist spanned ten months; his prolific work met disapproval and his output came to an end as suddenly and mysteriously as it had begun. His work has come to be considered some of the greatest in the ukiyo-e genre.

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Sharaku made mostly yakusha-e portraits of kabuki actors.

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His compositions emphasize poses of dynamism and energy, and display a realism unusual for prints of the time—contemporaries such as Utamaro represented their subjects with an idealized beauty, while Sharaku did not shy from showing unflattering details.


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Ukiyo-e art flourished in Japan during the Edo period from the 17th to 19th centuries. The artform took as its primary subjects courtesans, kabuki actors, and others associated with the ukiyo “floating world” lifestyle of the pleasure districts

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After the mid-18th century, full-colour nishiki-e prints became common, printed with a large number of woodblocks, one for each colour.