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Asian art

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Standing figure of an actor



Miyagawa Chôsun


1683 - 1753


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.


Other Titles

Portrait of an onnagata

Portrait of an onnagata of the Kabuki theatre

Place where the work was made




Media category


Materials used

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


Not on display

Accession number


Artist information

Miyagawa Chôsun

Works in the collection



Where the work was made

Shown in 4 exhibitions

Exhibition history

Referenced in 13 publications


Art Gallery of New South Wales, Great gifts, great patrons: an exhibition celebrating private patronage of the Gallery, Sydney, 1994. no catalogue numbers

Edmund Capon AM, OBE, Art Gallery of New South Wales: highlights from the collection, Sydney, 2008, 172, 173 (colour illus.), 174 (colour illus.). The colour illus. on page 174 is a detail of this work.

Edmund Capon AM, OBE, Art Gallery of New South Wales Foundation Annual Report 1997, Sydney, 1997, 13 (colour illus.).

AJIOKA Chiaki (Curator), Heroes and villains: from Japan's floating world, Sydney, May 2001, 7. 3.4

Gary Hickey, Beauty & desire in Edo period Japan, 'Men as Women', pg. 13-18, Parkes, 1998, 12 (colour illus.), 14, 70. 5

Gary Hickey, Artonview, 'Beauty and Desire in Edo Period Japan', pg. 4-7, Parkes, Winter 1998, 6 (colour illus.).

Bruce James, Art Gallery of New South Wales handbook, 'Asian Collection: East Asia', pg. 246-287, Sydney, 1999, 276 (colour illus.).

Jackie Menzies, The Floating World: Japan's world of transient pleasures, Sydney, 1994, (colour illus.). K2

Jackie Menzies and Edmund Capon AM, OBE, Asian Collection Handbook, Art Gallery of New South Wales, 'Japanese Painting', pg. 53-69, Sydney, 1990, 63 (colour illus.).

Jackie Menzies (Editor), The Asian Collections Art Gallery of New South Wales, 'The Floating World', Sydney, 2003, 247 (colour illus.).

Jackie Menzies, Orientations, 'Japanese Figure Painting: From the Public to the Personal', pg. 114-119, Hong Kong, Sep 2000, 118 (colour illus.). fig.7

Jackie Menzies, AGNSW Collections, 'Asian Art - India, South-East Asia, China, Tibet, Korea, Japan', pg. 173-228, Sydney, 1994, 224 (colour illus.), 225.

Jacqueline Menzies, Art Gallery of New South Wales handbook, 'Asian', pg. 72-93, Sydney, 1988, 82, 86, 87 (colour illus.).