Gochôtei Kunimasu (五蝶亭國升), formerly Sadamasu 貞升), act. c. late 1820s-early 1850s), also signed as Utagawa Sadamasu (歌川貞升). His given name was Kanaya Wasaburô (金屋和三郎). He was said to be a wealthy real estate owner in the Semba district of Osaka who developed his own school of printmaking. He has been credited with bringing the Osaka style of chûban format actor bust portraits (ôkubi-e, or "large head prints") to its full flowering, designing his first example around 1837. (The earliest known single-sheet chûban in a well-developed Osaka style were designed by Shôkôsai Hanbei (active c. 1795-1809), two full-length designs published in 9/1799.)
Sadamasu began as a student of Utagawa Kunisada I in Edo sometime between 8/1828 and 3/1830. His earliest known print is a double-ôban sumizuri playbill (banzuke) issued in 3/1830, most likely published in Edo. After relocating to Osaka no later than 12/1831, Sadamasu designed his first datable nishiki-e in 1/1832, a full-length portrait of Arashi Rikan II in the role of Miyamoto Musashi, which was carved by the elite block carver horiko Kasuke.
In the Kamigata world of highly skilled amateur ukiyo-e artists, no one but Ryûsai Shigeharu (and probably Hasegawa Sadanobu) made a living entirely from printmaking. Sadamasu, however, was also a rare artist in Osaka, as he enjoyed a substantial income from his family’s business (possibly shipbuilding). A brief biography of Sadamasu by the historian Sekine Shisei titled Honchō ukiyo-e gajinden (Biographies of floating-world artists in Japan) published in 1899 identified Sadamasu as a wealthy property owner in the Senba district of Osaka (the city’s commercial center at the time) who had studied with Utagawa Kunisada in Edo. Moreover, Sadamasu was said to have used his wealth to create his own school of print design, sponsoring pupils and offering some established Osaka artists guidance as well as support for publishing opportunities.
Sadamasu’s prints number about 135. Among the finest in ôban format is a diptych depicting Arashi Rikan II as Kagekiyo (景清) and Nakamura Utaemon III as yakko (servant) Komahei (奴) for an imaginary casting or mitate (analogue print: 見立) published circa early 1833 (see image at top). The block cutter was hori Kuma (ﾎﾘ熊 Matsukura Kumazô) and the printer suri Oto (スリ音). The tale celebrated here was linked to the historical Kagekiyo (the Heike general Taira no Kagekiyo), who was nicknamed Akushichibyoe, "bad man of the seventh degree," for killing his uncle (after he mistook him for his enemy Minamoto no Yoritomo). Although a formidable warrior, he was later captured after the pivotal naval battle at Dannoura in 1185 and exiled to a cave on Hyûga Island, where he died of starvation in 1195. Kagekiyo held a prominent role in legend and in kabuki and puppet dramas called Kagekiyo mono (Kagekiyo plays). Some additional information is given in my text at Sadamasu.
Another fine work in ôban format is Sadamasu's portrait of Arashi Tokusaburô III as onnadate (chivalrous woman) Ohashi in Nippon daiichi mekari no jinji (日本第和布苅神事), Onishi Theater, Osaka (see image above right). An onnadate (女伊達 or 女作) was the female equivalent of the otokodate (男伊達) or (男作), lit., "standing man," or "one who stands up like a man." The otokodate was idealized as an heroic figure. a chivalrous commoner who defended the weak and oppressed against abusive samurai. Otokodate were popularized in literature and on the kabuki stage as champions of the lower class citizens.
After the end of strict enforcement of the Tenpô kaikaku (Tenpô reforms: 天保改革) in 1/1847, the chûban format became the dominant in Kamigata. An example by Kunimasu is shown below, a grouping that depicts, right to left, the actors Jitsukawa Ensaburô I as Heiji Kagetaka (平次景高), Ichikawa Shikô I as Kajiwara Genta Kagesue (梶原源太景季), and Arashi Sanemon IX as Koshimoto Chidori (こし元千鳥) in the play Hiragana seisuiki (Simple chronicle of the fortunes of the Heike and Genji: ひらかな盛衰記), performed in 5/1848 at the Wakadayû Theater, Osaka. The deluxe design (with metallics) bears the series title Honcho gishiden (Tales of honor and fidelity in our country: 本朝義信傳) and is signed Sadamasu aratame Kunimasu (Sadamasu changing to Kunimasu: 貞升改國升). The play was based on the medieval tale (called the Genpei seisuiki) of the wars between the Heike and Genji clans in 1184. Chidori was a maid in the Kajiwara family who loved Genta, but his younger brother Kagetaka also loved her. Genta is disowned by his mother when he is accused by Kagetaka of cowardice in battle, and he runs off with Chidori, who later becomes a courtesan named Umegae as she tries to support her lover in exile. (For another scene from this play, see the diptych on the Hirosada page.)
Specimens such as this triptych offer evidence of the remarkable technical skills of Osaka carvers and printers who exhibited a mastery of the artisanal process while translating the artist's drawings and color indications into prints. Such works of art are among the gems of late-period ukiyo-e.
Art Names (geimei)
Among the seals found on Sadamasu's prints, there are examples reading Sada (貞), Sadamasu (貞升), Utagawa (歌川), Utagawa Kunimasu (歌川國升), and Wasa (和三). Another seal reads Ju (longevity: 寿 or 壽), which is placed within the form of a bat. Having connections with Utagawa artists, Sadamasu also used their Toshidama seal ("New Year Jewel": 年玉).
Pupils of Sadamasu (Kunimasu)
[Utagawa] Hirosada (歌川廣貞 act. c. 1835-1850s; previous name Hirokuni 廣國 early 1847-5/1847)
The following artists might have been pupils of Sadamasu:
© 1999-2021 by John Fiorillo