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Segawa Kikunojo III as Oshizu, Wife of Tanabe Bunzo

Toshusai Sharaku

Asian Art

This print of the actor Segawa Kikunojo III is one of the most celebrated portraits of the onnagata (male actor in a female role) by the late eighteenth-century artist Toshusai Sharaku. It portrays a character in the Genroku era play Hanaayame Bunroku Soga (The Iris Saga of the Bunroku Era), a drama that retells the true story of the vengeance of ten brothers for their father's assassination in 1701. The play was performed at the Miyako-za theater in the city of Edo in May 1794.

The portrait is in the bust-length, close-up format known as okubi-e. Sharaku utilized this format to highlight the expressive talents of the performer and to document the role. The mica ground is a distinctive feature of Sharaku's portraits; the signature and publisher's seal were stamped over the mica following the printing.

Sharaku was active only from May 1794 to January 1795. He produced 140 actor prints in that period, after which he disappeared. No other works with this artist's signature are known. The mystery of his identity is still unsolved. One theory has proposed that Sharaku himself was an actor, but for the Noh form of theater.
MEDIUM Color woodblock print on paper
  • Place Made: Japan
  • DATES May 1794
    PERIOD Edo period
    DIMENSIONS 14 7/8 x 9 1/4 in. (37.8 x 23.5 cm)  (show scale)
    SIGNATURE Toshusai Sharaku
    INSCRIPTIONS Dated "5/1794"
    CREDIT LINE Gift of Frederic B. Pratt
    CATALOGUE DESCRIPTION Half-length portrait of an actor playing a female role. The actor's face is in a slight frown, her hand tucked into her obi (sash). The figure appears against a ground of dark gray mica powder. This print of the actor Segawa Kikunojo III is one of Sharaku's most celebrated portraits of an "onnagata" (male actor in a female role). Dated to May 1794, it portrays the sardonic expression of a character in the Genroku play "Hanaayame Bunroku Soga", a drama that tells the true story of the vengeance of ten brothers twenty-eight years after their father's assassination in 1701. The artist, Sharaku, was a Noh actor in the service of the lord of Awa, now Osaka, and is credited with producing more than 150 print designs of "kabuki" actors for one publisher within a nine-month period from May 1794 to February 1795. All of this artist's prints are either facial portraits or portraits of actors in full view on stage, and the respect he treats the face of each actor was never attempted by the other artists of Edo. His works are completely different in conception and quality. Condition: good, green may be slightly retouched, may have been pressed. trimmed at right and at edge. Definitive Catalogue No: Henderson and Ledoux. Vignier-Inada. 275. The play "Hanaayame Buroku Soga" was performed at the Miyako-za theater in Edo in May 1794 (Kansei 6). Sharaku became active from May 1794 when Kabuki was held at three theaters: Miyako-za, Kiri-za, and Kawarazaki-za. The artist was active only from May 1794 to January 1795, in the lunar year. Sharaku produced about 140 popular as well as unknown actor prints in 10 months. It has been said that Sharaku was a Noh actor, Saito Jurobei, who served for the Lord of Awa which was a province of Shikoku island near Osaka. However while his absence from the mission (4/21/94-4/2/96) matches with the period of Sharaku's surviving works, it has not proved that they were identical. The print was signed and bears the ivy-leaf emblem of the publisher, Tsutaya with a circle for the kiwame seal of censorship. (Roger Keyes, "The Art of Sharaku" in the catalog) All of Sharaku's prints were published by Tsutaya Juzaburo. Tsutaya hid Sharaku's personal history from his rival print merchants. (Haruo Suwa, "Sharaku and Kabuki" in the catalog)
    MUSEUM LOCATION This item is not on view
    CAPTION Toshusai Sharaku (Japanese, active 1794–1795). Segawa Kikunojo III as Oshizu, Wife of Tanabe Bunzo, May 1794. Color woodblock print on paper, 14 7/8 x 9 1/4 in. (37.8 x 23.5 cm). Brooklyn Museum, Gift of Frederic B. Pratt, 42.83 (Photo: Brooklyn Museum, 42.83_PS4.jpg)
    IMAGE overall, 42.83_PS4.jpg. Brooklyn Museum photograph, 2013
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