Toshusai Sharaku Kabuki print to star with $128,500 estimate

A superb work from master printmaker Toshusai Sharaku, depicting a popular Kabuki actor, is to provide the main draw of Bonhams' Japanese Art sale on November 6.

Toshusai Sharaku auction Bonhams print
Could Sharaku have been the legendary Katsushika Hokusai?

The enigmatic Sharaku was considered one of the finest woodblock printmakers in Japan, although little is known about his life. Some scholars believe that the name Sharaku is taken from the Japanese word sharakusai, which translates as nonsense, and that the prints were actually a project by a group of artists, rather than one person.

Other theories state that the artist was in fact "Great Wave" creator Katsushika Hokusai, who disappeared from the art world at the same time as Sharaku's works began to appear.

Nonetheless, Sharaku prints remain some of the finest to have ever been created and are exceedingly rare, with the artist (or artists) active for only 10 months between 1794 and 1795. Many of the works depict popular Kabuki theatre actors of the day, with the present example featuring Segawa Tomisaburo II in the role of Yadorigi.

Although Tomisaburo was a male actor, it was common at the time for men to play female roles - Yadorigi was the wife of Ogish Kurando in the play Hana-ayame Buroku Soga. It was first performed in 1794 and published by Tsutaya Juzaburo.

Comparable works are found in the Tokyo National Museum, British Museum and New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art, making this a truly exhibition quality piece. It is expected to sell for £70,000-80,000 ($112,250-128,500).

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