An image of Standing figure of an actor

Miyagawa Chôsun

(Japan 1683 – 1753)

Standing figure of an actor

Other titles:
Portrait of an onnagata, Portrait of an onnagata of the Kabuki theatre
Not on display
Further information

A classic but bold 'ukiyo-e' image, this beautifully poised figure conveys a mood of solitude and studied introspection which contrasts with the showy and dramatic costume. It is an image that combines, in that uniquely Japanese way, qualities of reticence and flamboyance. The nature of the dress, the small, tightly fitting cap, the theatricality of the pose, all suggest that this is an image of an 'onnagata', or female impersonator of the kabuki theatre. Kabuki developed in Edo Japan in response to a growing demand among the emergent mercantile class for a type of theatre more entertaining and accessible than the long-established classic noh theatre patronised by the upper classes. The Edo authorities sought to control possible abuse and prostitution in the new world of the kabuki by banning women and young boys from participating. Thus there arose a role for female impersonators and the 'onnagata' became a skilled, highly appreciated and sought-after category of actors, known for their subtle and convincing portrayal of every nuance of female demeanour.

Art Gallery Handbook, 1999. pg. 277.

Place of origin
Japan: Edo (Tokugawa) period 1615–1868, Shôtoku era 1711–1715
hanging scroll; ink and colour on paper
110.0 x 53.0 cm image; 209.3 x 69.0 x 75.0 cm scroll
Signature & date

Not signed. Not dated.

Art Gallery of New South Wales Foundation Purchase 1987
Accession number