VIRTUAL COLLECTION OF ASIAN MASTERPIECES

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Portrait of the Kabuki actor, Segawa Tomisaburô II in the play “Iris flowers; the Soga brothers in the Bunroku era”
EO 1532
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Why this is a
Masterpiece

The collection of Sharaku engravings conserved in the Guimet Museum is rich in quality prints, in a remarkable state of conservation. The work can be considered as emblematic of this collection, which owes so much to the perspicacity of the collectors of the late 19th century. Sharaku, despite the brevity of his career and the paucity of information about him which has reached us, remains one of the greatest portrait artists of that golden age, alongside Utamaro. This portrait of onnagata (masculine actor portraying a feminine role) reveals the innovative language, which was accomplished as soon as its author developed it, over a period of several months from 1794 and 1795. The bust of the model isolated in a close-up on a background of mica-tinted ink, appears as if projected on a paper flower. The resulting tension of this composition draws the eye towards the actor’s face, which allows two personalities to show through in one subtle superimposition. The psychological precision of this double description (the features of the actor and the personality of the embodied role), and the sumptuousness of the harmonious colours as the great graphic economy of the drawing, combine to make one of the most skillful and convincing portraits in Japanese art.

History of the Object
The final decade of the 18th century marked a “golden age” of the Japanese print, for very many reasons. The total mastery of colour; the use of technical perfecting such as the addition of mica to the backgrounds; the audacious invention of new rules of composition, such as those governing close-up portraits (okubi-e), illustrated here, all belong to this apogee. These works are revealing of the deep cultural changes that affected Japan’s Edom and particularly the very town of Edo, crucible of a resolutely modern urban culture of the 18th century. The development and pictorial movement of ukiyo-e, such as that of Kabuki theatre, lie behind the emergence of such works. Furthermore, its journey to the heart of private, then public, Parisian collections gives us a glimpse into the critical fate experienced by this art in Europe from the end of the 19th century.

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Type
Print 
Materials
Polychrome print (nishiki-e) on paper, mica-tinted background. 
Measurements
Height 38,6 cm. Length 25,8 cm.  
Creator name
Tôshûsai Sharaku 
Creator date
active between 1794 and 1795 
Where it was made
Japan; Edo 
Geography
Japan 
Time period
AD 18th century ~ AD 18th century 
Creation date
18th Century; 1794; fifth Month 
Function
print 
Acquisition
Acquired by the Louvre Museum in 1912, thanks to a legacy from Isaac de Camondo. Handed over to the Guimet National Museum of Asian Arts in 1945, during the gathering of Asian collections. 
Copyright
 
Acknowledgements
 
Owner
Guimet National Museum of Asian Arts 
Museum
Musée National des arts asiatiques Guimet 
Credit line
 

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