Art: Depicting Pleasure

The most mysterious master in the history of Japanese art was a printmaker who signed himself Sharaku, meaning depict pleasure. One spring day in 1794 Sharaku entered a guidebook and print shop on the edge of Edo's red-light district carrying some stark, needle-sharp portraits of Kabuki actors. The shopkeeper agreed to publish his drawings, so for the next ten months Sharaku depicted the pleasures of the stage. His prints sold badly, and Sharaku vanished, never to produce again. He left behind a body of work as exquisite as it was small: two painted fans, 17 drawings, and 139 known woodcuts. Last...

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