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Toshusai Sharaku (active 1794-1795)
Sharaku is considered the most enigmatic genius of all ukiyo-e artists. His work burst on the scene in 1794, and ten months later he disappeared, never to be heard from again. To this day no one has solved the mystery of who Sharaku was, or the reasons behind his brief but brilliant career. It has been posited that Sharaku was Utamaro's art name for designs of kabuki actors, but other's claim this is impossible. Other's claim that Hokusai was Sharaku, but this is again unsubstantiated. There are about 140 Sharaku prints recorded, among them some of the most coveted prints in all of the floating world.

Sharku's career appears to have been brief in part because the radical nature of his work aroused the hostility of the art world in Edo. One contemporary manuscript records: "Sharaku designed likenesses of Kabuki actors, but because he depicted them too truthfully, his prints did not conform to accepted ideas, and his career was short." It seems likely that his prints, with their tendency to wring the last drop of truth from his subjects through close depiction of personal characteristics, left customers with a sense of unease, and made his prints difficult to sell. Further, it seems plausible that he was unwilling to compromise his art, and his critics hounded him from the art world. Indeed, his work did not become popular among collectors in Japan until rediscovered by German scholar Julius Kurth in 1910. Today Sharaku is considered one of the greatest of all woodblock artists, and the extraordinarily rare originals of his prints command fantastic sums at auctions.

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