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

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Over 140 prints have been established as the work of Sharaku; the majority are portraits of actors or scenes from kabuki theatre, and most of the rest are of sumo wrestlers or warriors.

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Sharaku’s reputation rests largely on the earlier prints; those from the eleventh month of 1794 and after are considered artistically inferior.

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Energy and dynamism are the primary features of Sharaku’s portraits, rather than the idealized beauty typical of ukiyo-e—Sharaku highlights unflattering features such as large noses or the wrinkles of aging actors.

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Most ukiyo-e artists gained apprenticeship experience and connections by working for an artistic school, such as the Torii or Utagawa school.

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Ukiyo-e artists had low social status, and what personal details remain in the record tend to be sparse; Sharaku nevertheless presents an exceptional case in the utter absence of these details.

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The Edo public reacted poorly to Sharaku’s portraits. More copies of the larger, first-period works remain, suggesting they enjoyed greater popularity than the later works; most for which only a single copy remains come from the later periods.