Kabuki Actor Morita Kan’ya VIII as the Palanquin-Bearer in the Play A Medley of Tales of Revenge (Katakiuchi noriaibanashi)
Tōshūsai Sharaku (Japanese, active 1794–95)
Edo period (1615–1868)
5th month, 1794
Polychrome woodblock print; ink, color, white mica on paper
15 x 10 in. (38.1 x 25.4 cm)
Harris Brisbane Dick Fund and Rogers Fund, 1949
Not on view
This figure, whose nickname "Uguisu" means "bush warbler," is a palanquin bearer, a profession that Edoites associated with petty hoodlums. Sharaku depicts him furtively rubbing his hands inside his kimono, a conventional gesture indicating his guilty awareness of the evil deed he is about to commit.
Sharaku was a master at designing forceful graphic images. In this portrait, the strength of his draftsmanship is concentrated in the drapery folds and the varied lines of the facial features, where the essence of this character could be best expressed. The clipped starting points and tapered ends of individual lines are reminiscent of lines painted with a brush, yet the graphic quality is typical of the woodblock-print medium.
Signature: Oban; Toshusai Sharaku
Nagoya City Museum. "Ukiyo-e from the Metropolitan Museum of Art," April 14, 1995–May 28, 1995.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "A Drama of Eyes and Hands: Sharaku's Portraits of Kabuki Actors," September 20, 2007–March 24, 2008.