In the art world, there have been few mysterious artists as interesting as Toshusai Sharaku.

Whether Sharaku is a he, a she, or a they remains somewhat of a debated issue. The only real fact that is well-known is that his/her/their work is pretty impressive.

In a 10-month period between 1794 and 1795, Sharaku painted a series of woodblock portraits of kabuki actors, such as the one pictured above. Sharaku painted and released 146 pieces during that span, but then just disappeared.

No more kabuki portraits. No more anything, really. And in the time since Sharaku disappeared from the art landscape, people have often wondered just who or what it was all about.

Well, the Tokyo National Museum is currently running an exhibit of Sharaku’s 146 pieces through June 12.

At the exhibit, visitors can get an idea of just how detailed Sharaku’s paintings were, as well as make their own theories about the painter’s true identity. Part of the allure of Sharaku is the anonymity, and it’s all really intriguing to think about.

The Independent ran a lengthy, detailed piece about Sharaku and the exhibit at the Tokyo National Museum, which helps explain a bit further the importance of Sharaku’s contributions:

The important point is that, in those 10 short months of activity, he produced an amazing number of works, several dozen of them real masterpieces. If ever there was an artist deserving the full exhibition treatment it is Sharaku. It was almost exactly a hundred years ago that his name was plucked from the obscurity into which it had fallen among Japanese scholars by a German scholar, Julius Kurth, who produced a seminal work claiming the artist one of the world’s three greatest portraits alongside Velázquez and Rembrandt.

Read the rest of the Independent’s piece to learn more about Sharaku, and visit the Museum’s website to find out more about the exhibit itself.

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