Shôkôsai Hanbei (松好半兵衛) was a pupil of Ryûkôsai Jokei (active c. 1776-1809), the "founder" of the Osaka school of mature yakusha-e (actor portraits: 役者絵). Shôkôsai’s earliest confirmed single-sheet hosoban yakusha-e is a diptych from 5/1795. He discovered his own manner of rendering likenesses around 1800 — realistic, but occasionally less caustic than Ryûkôsai’s nigao-e (likeness pictures: 似顔絵).
|Shôkôsai Hanbei: Arashi Sangorô II (嵐三五郎) and Yoshizawa Iroha I (芳澤いろは later called Ayame V)
Woodblock print, surimono, c. 1797 (205 x 281 mm)
Shôkôsai's biography is unknown but for a few sketchy details. His actor portraiture evolved from the foundation provided by Ryûkôsai's nigao-e. His earliest confirmed print appears to date from 5/1795, although an unsigned portrait dated 4/1794 has been attributed to him. He may have designed the earliest single-sheet chûban-format prints in Osaka, publishing two such works in 9/1799. Shôkôsai also designed the first color-printed ehon (picture book: 絵本) of actors in Osaka; see double-page illustration below). Another of his admired illustrated books is the Ehon santô yakusha masukagami (Picture book: A brilliant mirror of actors in the three cities: 絵本三都俳優ますかゞみ), published in 1806. Active in another area of ukiyo-e production, Shôkôsai illustrated at least eight e-iri nehon (kabuki playbooks: 絵入根本) between 1801 and 1809, establishing an Osaka genre that lasted until the 1860s. These were illustrated kabuki playbooks or summary editions, ranging from prose adaptations of plays to relatively accurate stage dialogs. Shôkôsai's legacy also includes his teaching Shunkôsai Hokushû (active c. 1806-1832), arguably the most significant master in the next generation of Osaka artists.
The print illustrated above is a rare example of a surimono (privately issued print: 摺物) from the early period of Osaka printmaking and the only one known by Shôkôsai. Dated circa late 1790s, its proportions (200 x 282 mm) and horizontal orientation shelter it somewhat from the direct influence of the Katsukawa vertical hosoban style and even from that of Ryûkôsai, which lends this particular surimono the stamp of originality. Shôkôsai depicted the actors Arashi Sangorô II (嵐三五郎 1732-1803) on the right and Yoshizawa Iroha I (芳澤いろは later called Ayame V; 1754-1810) on the left in an unidentified play. Both actors were highly ranked and widely popular among theater fans. They are at Miho Bay with Mt. Fuji in the distance, where they are engaged in a dance interlude (shosagoto: 所作事). The occasion for this surimono is unknown — perhaps it was commissioned by fans of the actors. Another possibility is that it was commissioned for the retirement of Sangorô II, which took place in 1797. The first poem speaks of the morning mist at Miho, the second of a lover waiting for a companion, and the third of a sad parting between lovers at dawn. The delicacy of the printing and the full-color rendering of the actors contrast strongly with the lightly printed background, a precursor to later dramatic treatments of heavily printed ukiyo-e style figures set against more impressionistic, Shijô-inspired backgrounds. Shôkôsai was an experimenter in compositional forms and printing styles that set the stage for later Osaka artists.
|Shôkôsai Hanbei: Ichikawa Danzō IV (市川團蔵) and Yoshizawa Iroha I (芳澤いろは)
Woodblock print, double-page illustration, 1798
Ehon futaba no aoi (Seed-leaves of the hollyhock: 絵本二葉葵), 2 volumes (254 x 170 mm closed)
Published by Shioya Chôbei (塩屋長兵衛)
The styles of Ryûkôsai and Shôkôsai were similar. Both placed their figures against plain grounds or simplified landscapes that were influenced by paintings from the Kanô (狩野) and Shijô (四条) schools. Both developed individuated physiognomies, stylized but consistently drawn and recognizable portraits of popular actors. Shôkôsai was perhaps a bit more angular in his drawing of the face. The most obvious difference between master and pupil lay in Shôkôsai's more wide-ranging compositional choices. While Ryûkôsai worked almost exclusively with full-length-figure hosoban compositions in his single-sheet prints (some of his paintings do, however, include ôkubi-e ("large-head" or bust portraits: 大首絵), Shôkôsai worked in full-length figure, half-length, and bust portrait single-sheet hosoban and chûban. Shôkôsai's ôkubi-e were particularly innovative for the Kamigata region and likely were important to the development of the later and better known bust portraits in the ôban-format during the second and third periods of Osaka printmaking.
Shōkōsai’s ehon represent a vital aspect of his oeuvre. He designed the first full-color illustrated actor book in Osaka, the two-volume Ehon futaba no aoi (Seed-leaves of the hollyhock: 絵本二葉葵) published by Shioya Chôbei (塩屋長兵衛) in 1798 (size when closed: 254 x 170 mm). Altogether, there are ten double-page and five single-page full-length portraits of 40 actors, including two from Edo (Sawamura Sojûrô III, 澤村宗十郎 and Iwai Hanshirô IV, 岩井半四郎), performing in plays between 1793 and 1798. This ehon was so popular that it was reprinted until the early twentieth century. In the selection immediately above, from an early edition, Shôkôsai used a double-page spread to portray a child actor on the right along with Ichikawa Danzō IV (市川團蔵) and Yoshizawa Iroha I (芳澤いろは) in an onnagata (woman's manner: 女方 or 女形) role.
Once Shôkôsai began producing his half-length or ôkubi-e portraits, a modified style emerged that was slightly more curvilinear and confident in rendering the nigao. On the example shown here (see image at right), a hosoban print published by Shichô-ban 塩長板 (Shioya Chôbei, 塩屋長兵衛), the signature reads "Konan Shôkôsai" (江南松好齋). The use of "Konan" in his signature, meaning "south of the river," is a possible reference to his residence south of the Yodo River. It portrays Arashi Kichisaburô II (嵐吉三郎) as Tsukushi Gonroku (筑紫権六) in Keisei hako denju (Instruction in a courtesan’s secrets: けいせい筥伝授) at the Kado Theater, Osaka in 1/1804. The angular typology for the face derived from Ryûkôsai is still present, but the contours are beginning to soften and there is greater flow overall to the actor's form. This rendering of the face would lead directly to the early portraits by Shôkôsai's most important pupil, Shôkôsai Hokushû (春好齋北洲 act. c. 1802-1832).
Overall, Shôkôsai produced portraits in the Ryûkôsai manner with convincing likenesses in paintings, prints, and ehon, and to his own credit, introduced a greater range of formats in Kamigata ukiyo-e. He was a singular transitional figure between the seminal oeuvre of Ryûkôsai and the artists of the next generation of print designers, most notably Shôkôsai's aforementioned pupil Shôkôsai Hokushû.
Pupils of Shôkôsai
Shôkôsai's legacy includes his critical role in passing on knowledge of printmaking to Hokushû, arguably the most significant master in the next generation of Osaka artists:
Shunkôsai Hokushû (春好齋北洲 act. c. 1802(?)-1832)
Otherwise, Shôkôsai seems to have had few pupils, although four others are known:
Sekkô (Sekkôsai, 雪好齋 act. c. 1812–1814)
Rokô (Rokôsai, 露好齋 act. c. 1810–1813)
Shinkô (眞好 act. c. 1815)
Jukôdô Yoshikuni (壽好堂芳國 act. c. 1813–1832).
© 1999-2021 by John Fiorillo
- Fiorillo, John: "A rare surimono by Shôkôsai and its place among early Osaka actor portraits," in: Andon, no. 57, 1997, pp. 21-37.
- Gerstle, C.A.: Kabuki Heroes on the Osaka Stage, 1780-1830. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 2005.
- Keyes, Roger and Mizushima, Keiko: The Theatrical World of Osaka Prints. Philadelphia: Philadelphia Museum of Art, 1973.
- Lühl, H.: Schätze der Kamigata: Japanische Farbenholzschnitte aus Osaka, 1780-1880 (Treasures of Osaka: Japanese Color Prints from Osaka, 1780-1880). Musee National d'Histoire et d'Art Luxembourg, 2013.