Sharaku: Masterworks of Ukiyo-e


“The usual course followed by ukiyo-e artists took them from a comprehensive treatment of the whole subject together with its background, to a full-length treatment of isolated figures without a background, and thence to the half-length figure; from the small print to the large print; and from technical simplicity to technical complexity. Sharaku traveled in precisely the opposite direction.”

“…the grand total at the present moment, as given in Yoshida Teruji’s Sharaku (1957) stands at 159 prints–142 polychrome prints and 17 preliminary sketches (hanshita-e). In fact, Professor Yoshida has since eliminated one work from the list of polychromes…”

“The extravagance of using mica dust; the deliberate choice of comparatively low-ranking actors along with their more famous colleagues as subjects for half-length portraits; and the fact that all Sharaku’s prints were published by the firm of Tsutaya Juzaburo–such things would suggest an order from a particular sponsor for prints to be distributed for a particular purpose.”

“Yet most astonishing of all is the intense and unrelenting artistry which Sharaku reveals in his treatment of facial features–the way in which the angle of the eyes, the line of the nose, the curve of the lips–whose lines at first glance appear to be freakishly distorted–prove on closer inspection to constitute what one might describe as quintessential units of form which are produced by paring away everything but the absolutely indispensable, then subtly arranged so as to give, not merely a facial likeness of the actor being portrayed, but hints of his stature as an actor and the quality of his art, and even a rough idea of his age.”

some greatly informative quotes from the Sharaku volume of the Masterworks of Ukiyo-e series

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