The Mystery that was Toshusai Sharaku

It is unknown with any level of certainty Sharaku's date of birth or his date of date. Furthermore, it's not even known if Toshusai Sharaku is his real name. The only trait of Sharaku's existence resides in his work. Only speculations abound as to his identity.

It is thought that Sharaku was once an actor in the Noh theater style. It's speculated that his name at this time was Saito Jurobei and he was an actor in the service of the Daimyo of Awa (a district of Japan). This is believed because of his fondness for detailing actors in his work. Though Sharaku's artist career lasted a measly ten months, he is regarded as one of the greatest woodblock artist of all time. It's believed that an unsuccessful living could be made by selling his art. Many historians believe that Sharaku's art portrayed life too realistically, and therefore patrons felt uneasy with it. In his 10 month career, Sharaku created over 300 prints of his art. Most of his art was of Kabuki and Noh actors.

The above pictures entitled "Ebizo" and is of a kabuki actor named Ichikawa Ebizo IV as his played the character Takemura Sadanoshin. It is unlikely that Ebizo had this work commissioned, because many actors was outraged at Sharaku's exaggeration of their facial features. Sharaku must have done the work out of enjoyment considering the large number of actor portraits he left behind. An exact date of publication is not known, but it was created roughly between the years of 1794-1795. It is believed to be from Japan's Awa district. The woodblock is done in the form known as Ukiyo ("Pictures of the Floating World") This form existed as a style of woodblock print during the 18th and 19th century. The means of making a woodblock print were simple. First a master artisan painted a masterpiece. Then, trained apprentices traced it, and made templates for each color. Those wear glued to blocks of wood which were then pressed to paper once dipped in ink. The art form arose in Edo (nowadays Tokyo) as a cheap way of mass producing a work. The common people could now own a copy of work. This made it very easy for westerners to get their hands on Japanese art. This art form served as a primary inspiration for many European impressionist painters. This work of art shows Japan breaking away from more traditional art. Sharaku broke the conformity of art in Japan.