Sharaku - the enigmatic artist

Art Cube - Vallentuna Culture, Vallentuna

Woodcut of Tôshûsai Sharaku - germinal woodcut artist, operating in Japan 1794-1795, who worked under psudonym. His correct identity is a mystery still today. The mystery about Sharaku has led to a kind of shimmer being placed over his name. The discussion of who the artist was continues today, TV shows and theater plays have been written about his life.

Artist's background
In the early 18th century, a special culture was developed in Japan, where some expressions became particularly popular. The theater form kabuki became a particularly popular entertainment form and actors became a kind of film star of the day. Their role models were depicted in woodcut and the actors spread the pictures on their own.

The artists who designed the prints became famous and the most skilled were able to feed themselves well on their talents. Although they used to use pseudonyms many times, it was almost always possible to figure out who were hiding behind the names. The pseudonyms did not really have the function of concealing the identity of the artists, but rather aimed at attracting buyers with attractive names.

In one case, however, the artist behind the pseudonym has remained anonymous. Tôshûsai Sharaku was active for a very short period towards the end of the eighteenth century, or more specifically 1794-1795.

Sharaku made portraits that also described the lesser-known actors and his images were unusually realistic. Or rather, in the ambition of making realistic portraits, he overthrew some facial expressions in ways that sometimes made them perceived as grotesque. At the same time, he has been praised for departing from the usual stereotypes of the past. Sharaku's woodcuts did not sell well during his lifetime, but has become more popular later.

A continuous feature of Sharaku's faces is that no person pictured looks straight ahead. The eyes are always attached elsewhere. He was not alone in this, but the phenomenon becomes extra clear when the eyes become slightly distorted, sometimes almost wind-wise, and the mouths signal disgust, disappointment or anger.

Nobody knows who Sharaku was. Sometimes the question has also been asked why no one has speculated that it might be a woman, someone who had the knowledge and ability but who had to sneak his identity because it was a world reserved for men.

One issue that is also discussed is why he stopped so abruptly to make woodcut images. What we know is that the images were striving for realism, but that realism was so strong that it rather turned to the opposite. The images came to be perceived as parodic portraits and hence sometimes also as insults to actors, who would rather want the woods to be distributed in ways that increased or maintained their popularity. Sharaku's pictures sold poorly and the actors probably stopped making available for portraiture. And because they sold poorly, the publisher also lost his interest in continuing to finance the publishing.

Regardless what the theories say, Sharaku's woodcut portrait is unique. It was not just the actor he deprived, although they were his favorite motive, he also portrayed summons and other people. The mysteries surrounding his person have undoubtedly contributed to his later fame and the collectors' great interest, but even if he knew who he was, his images would not lose his appeal.

Directions

|Translated by Google translation|
From Stockholm take the E18 north towards Norrtälje, follow signs for Vallentuna.

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