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Toshūsai Sharaku is one of the most enigmatic Japanese artists. The woodcuts signed with his name come from the period between May 1794 and January 1795. A total of about 150 Sharaku card images depict actors from the Kabuki theatre; these are projects with a completely different new form of expression, often close to a caricature.

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Toshūsai Sharaku is one of the most enigmatic Japanese artists. The woodcuts signed with his name come from the period between May 1794 and January 1795. A total of about 150 Sharaku card images depict actors from the Kabuki theatre; these are projects with a completely different new form of expression, often close to a caricature.
Thanks to Feliks Jasieński, the collection of the National Museum in Kraków includes one of only three existing prints depicting actor Ichikawa Komazo III in the role of Oyama Taro Takaie. Kōraiya — the name in the title was his stage name while Kinshō was his pen name as he was also known in literary circles.

Elaborated by Beata Romanowicz (The National Museum in Kraków), © all rights reserved

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Feliks “Manggha” Jasieński. Creating a collection

Feliks Jasieński collected art for thirty years of his life. The collection numbered about 15,000 items and included paintings and graphics from the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries, a set of Asian art objects, carpets, kilims, furniture and arts and crafts, as well as a library. The unique collection became a testimony to the time of its creator, who initially collected works in his apartment, and then, on 11 March 1920, donated them to the city of Kraków...

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Feliks Jasieński collected art for thirty years of his life. The collection numbered about 15,000 items and included paintings and graphics from the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries, a set of Asian art objects, carpets, kilims, furniture and arts and crafts, as well as a library. The unique collection became a testimony to the time of its creator, who initially collected works in his apartment, and then, on 11 March 1920, donated them to the city of Kraków.

Photo National Digital Archives

Who was the man whose collection inspires so much admiration? An anthropologist, cultural scientist, he was also interested in art, various aspects of civilization. He came from a landowning family. He received a very thorough education: in Dorpat, Berlin and Paris. He pursued various fields of study: economics, philosophy, literature, art history and music. Above all, however, he was an enthusiast and collector who consistently gathered a coherent collection of works. His pseudonym Manggha came from the collection of woodcuts by a Japanese artist Katsushiki Hokusai.
Thanks to Jasieński’s involvement, he managed to save the painting Szał [Frenzy] by Podkowiński , which had been cut up by the author. Jasieński carefully restored the canvas and hung it on the wall of his apartment in Cracow, as the most valuable object in his collection. He started the collection with the works of his contemporaries. The most outstanding artists of his time made an attempt at portraying him: Boznańska, Wyczółkowski, Malczewski, and Laszczka. His private acquisitions transformed into a museum collection. Would anyone be willing to donate their private collection of contemporary art to a museum nowadays?

Elaborated by: Editorial team of Małopolskas Virtual Museums,
Licencja Creative Commons

 This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Poland License.

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The humiliated beauty of kabuki

For Japan, the Edo epoch (1600–1868), under shogunate rule, was a time of isolation from all external influences, but also a time of prosperity and peace, solidified by the established social order (in a highly hierarchical society, everyone played a specific role – samurais constituted the most privileged class of the bakufu).

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For Japan, the Edo epoch (1600–1868), under shogunate rule, was a time of isolation from all external influences, but also a time of prosperity and peace, solidified by the established social order (in a highly hierarchical society, everyone played a specific role – samurais constituted the most privileged class of the bakufu).
The actors of kabuki belonged to the lowest of classes (this profession was considered morally doubtful). When counting the representatives of this profession, a different classifier was even used – they were not counted as people, but as small animals ... Even so, at the same time (in the 19th century), the situation of actors in Poland was equally dire – actresses, in particular, were often perceived as fallen women, who needed the protection of a sponsor.
It was then, in the Edo era, that separate worlds began to form: entertainment districts that belonged to oiran and the venues of kabuki theatre, which had become the most popular form of entertainment for the flourishing urban middle class.
The name kabuki itself meant “willing” – which was also read as “strange”, “bizarre”, and “abnormal” – being in opposition to the codified movements and gestures of the classical theatre nō. All this had its origin in the dance Okuni (one of the oiran), which was performed publicly in front of the temple Izumo. It quickly found imitators and was followed by groups of young boys, competing for their favours and provoking street brawls. All these activities, associated with kabuki, led to a ban on the performances of women and young men; from now on, these roles, including those of women, were taken over by mature men (when they played the roles of women, they were described as onnagata).
The actors of kabuki offered entry into another world: with gesture and mime they told the story of the conflict between feelings and duty (a popular theme of the double suicide of lovers). They also praised the former power and strength of the samurai, who had lost their significance in peacetime. On the one hand, they occupied a low social position, but, on the other hand – until they had become constrained by the restrictions imposed by bakufu – they could live extravagantly, wearing rich costumes and earning high wages.
On the one hand, they were humiliated, on the other they were admired. Perhaps, because of this duality, almost defiantly, they became a frequent topic of woodcuts.
The masters of woodcut art recorded images of kabuki artists and the beauty of oiran (who, although absent from general consciousness, would eclipse the beauty of the later geishas with their rituals) as willingly as they did the Edo mountain fn. Traces of these fascinations can also be seen on our portal and in the collection of the National Museum, presented at the Manggha Museum of Japanese Art and Technology in Kraków.

Elaborated by Anna Berestecka, (Editorial team of Małopolska’s Virtual Museums),
Licencja Creative Commons

 This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Poland License.

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Woodcut “Portrait of actor Kōraiya Kinshō” by Toshūsai Sharaku

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