Sharaku Kabuki Portraits

wafuku – noun: traditional Japanese clothing

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These prints are Sharaku kabuki portraits. Striking prints of Japanese kabuki actors. Very little of certainty is known about the artist Sharaku. His works, caricatures of kabuki artists, appeared over the space of less than a year, roughly eight months, from mid-1794,  and then he just disappeared.

This style of print of kabuki actors became popular in woodblock form, for their posters and portfolios. These are contemporary litho prints of such old woodblock prints. Reproduced in approximately 1970s. Sharaku’s style elongated the heads slightly and gave much more expression to the faces, particularly the eyes, than previously done in ukiyoe.

The women you see in them are actually men. Women’s roles were played by men who looked and dressed like women. Japanese men had to shave the hair from their scalps, so these kabuki actors started often wearing a little cap to cover it, to hide this masculine style and look more like women. The little caps became popular and the fashion was adopted by many ordinary women, even though they had no bald pate to hide.

The ones you see (above) mounted and hung are in the hallway of my mother’s house, where she has these prints, a stunning samurai design noren and 3 Japanese, traditional, festival masks. The ones below are currently on my website.

wafuku – noun: traditional Japanese clothing



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