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Sharaku was a pivotal ukiyo-e artist of the 18th century. Very little is known about Sharaku’s life, save that he lived in Edo. During his ten-month career, his prints were of such high caliber that Modern critics compare his genius to that of Rembrandt. He produced around 140 known designs between May 1794 and February 1795, mostly kabuki actors, marked by an air of satire and persistent wit, as well as some sumo prints. Sharaku’s work was radical for its time. His actor portraits allow the viewer an exceptionally intimate understanding of the subject’s character. Yet, during his lifetime, Sharaku’s style proved controversial. It was not until the beginning of the 20th century that his prints were rediscovered and earned him the exceptional reputation he holds today.
Throughout this artistic flowering of the ukiyo-e tradition, artists explored greater realism and began to consider the inner life of the subject, giving way to psychological portraiture. This “Golden Age” of ukiyo-e is marked by a confidence and maturity, composition and refinement, never before mastered.