by Sharaku (active 1794 - 1795)
Sharaku - Not much is known about the woodblock print artist Toshusai Sharaku, who specialized in kabuki portraits. His career spanned only ten months from 1794 to 1795, with around 150 prints known. Unlike his contemporaries, Sharaku did not idealize his subjects, instead creating realistic portrayals that were not always flattering, and his prints were not a popular success at the time. His best works convey a rare perceptivity, with a psychological insight and a deep understanding of the dramatic nature of the roles and the actors he depicted. Sharaku left behind a body of masterworks of ukiyo-e kabuki portraiture that remained unrecognized until a century after his death.
Comments - Dramatic portrait depicting Sakata Hangoro III as Fujikawa Mizuemon, a murderer and the villain of the kabuki play "Hana Ayame Bunroku Soga." He stares ahead with an arrogant expression, lips tightly closed and eyes wide, his chin thrust out aggressively. His neck and shoulders are tensed, his arms folded up into the sleeves of his gray kimono. The color scheme is subdued yet effective, with the black of the collar and hair providing a graphic contrast to the muted tones of the clothing and subtle gray mica background. A great portrait effectively conveying both strength and a sense of brutality. An impressive Sharaku design, considered one of his best.
Woodblock reprints - In the 20th century, artists and publishers collaborated to recreate famous woodblock prints for interested Japanese collectors and Westerners looking for rare designs. New blocks were made, and the prints were painstakingly printed by artisan printers in the same method as the 19th century originals - one block for each color. Woodblock reprints were an opportunity to collect and enjoy a famous design at a small fraction of the price of an original. They still are today.
Artist - Sharaku (active 1794 - 1795)
Image Size - 14 5/8" x 9 5/8" + margins as shown
Condition - This print with excellent color and detail as shown. Slight paper remnants on reverse at top corners from previous mounting. A few small marks in margins. Please see photos for details. Good overall.