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THE ARTIST – SHARAKU

Sharaku had a short stint with painting woodblock prints, although his claim to fame was large bust portraits of actors, which are very difficult to find today.  While painting, Sharaku left an impression on Asian art.  His full name of Toshusai Sharaku is considered among many great masters.  In addition to his own work, he was an innovator and as some say, a “creative genius”.  Much of Sharaku’s work was done in the Ukiyo-e world but he was also considered a world art master. 

The truth is that finding information about Sharaku is difficult.  What we know is that he did woodblock prints, as mentioned, but information pertaining to his birth, death, and ancestry is simply unknown.  The fascinating thing about this particular artist is that it is reported he only painted woodblock prints from 1794 to 1795.  Even more interesting is that while you would typically be able to follow a specific artist from schooling to mastery, it seems as if Sharaku came out of nowhere.  In fact, he appeared on the Asian art scene, already at a high level of skill.  Then to make matters even more confusing is the fact that he disappeared as quickly as he appeared. 

Now, we have learned that it seems Sharaku was actually a Noh actor, going by the name of Saito Jurobei.  Further research indicates he was a member of the Hachisuka family.  Although his disappearance is a highly controversial subject, some historians believe that because he was a member of the Noh acting group but was painting Kabuki actors, his own master was displeased, asking him to leave.  Even so, during his short time of painting woodblock prints, he captured a number of Kabuki actors to include Sawamura Yodogoro and Bando Zenji, both in 1794. 

However, another theory has risen in the past few decades.  In this case, it is believed that Sharaku was a project, not a person.  This particular project consisted of several artists asked to help launch a woodblock print house.  In this case, the name Sharaku would be a derivative of “Sharakusai”, which actually translates to “nonsense”.  It is thought that the entire project name was a joke only appreciated by in-house actors.  Because there was dramatic change in style during this short period, this second theory appears to be far more credible. 

While the last scenario seems likely, a third theory has surfaced.  For this, it is said that Sharaku along with his Ukiyo-e master, Hokusai, since he too disappeared suddenly from 1792 to 1796, which would be around the same time that Sharaku appeared.  Unfortunately, this third theory of the life of Sharaku and his amazing skill is supported by little. 

Although mystery surrounds Sharaku, a number of interesting facts is know.  For instance, paintings done by Sharaku are extremely detailed, depicting personal and sometimes, unknown characteristics about the subject.  As you can imagine, this insight made some people feel uncomfortable, as if he had some special inside.  Because of this, Sharaku prints were hard to sell.  Additionally, Sharaku did not budge on his work.  He was very proud of what he produced, even when criticized by the art world.  Today, Sharaku’s work is in demand, with him being labeled as one of the most incredible woodblock print artists of all times.


Read more about Japanese Woodblock Prints:
  Japanese Woodblock Prints   Ukiyo-e   Toyokuni Utagawa   Eisen Kikugawa   Hiroshige Ando   Utamaro Kitigawa

 

Visit our online store for dozens of Japanese Woodblock Prints

Click here to see our current selection.
 
The Great Wave by Hokusai
The Great Wave by Hokusai
Code:fw1002
Price:$27.95
Kabuki by Utagawa
Kabuki by Utagawa
Code:fw1121
Price:$27.95
3 Beauties by Utamaro
3 Beauties by Utamaro
Code:fw1118
Price:$27.95
General in Battle by Utagawa
General in Battle by Utagawa
Code:fw1120
Price:$27.95
Mt Fuji by Hiroshige
Mt Fuji by Hiroshige
Code:fw1010
Price:$27.95
 

 


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