After his study Sadamasu returned to Osaka. Since he is not mentioned among the artists listed in the printed broadsheet Naniwa shoryū gajin meika annai, an anonymous publication of c. 1831 listing Osaka actor portraitists and block-copyists, it seems likely that Sadamasu either was not active in Osaka that time, or he had not yet gained much fame among the print public in Osaka by then.2 However, we know he returned from his study in Edo not later than 1/1832, since on that date two prints of his oeuvre were published in Osaka. One is an ōban print depicting the actor Arashi Rikan III as Miyamoto Musashi in Katakiuchi nitō eiyūki, staged at the Chikugo Theatre [print 3]. It is published by one of the major publishing houses in Osaka, Wataya Kihei. The publisher’s expectations of Sadamasu’s talents obviously ran very high, as the firm made an appeal to the famous and in those days unrivalled master-carver Kasuke to take part in the production process. However, also the wealth and social status of the artist may have played a part of some importance here.
The other print published in the first month of 1832, is a joint work of Sadamasu and Shunbaisai Hokuei (active 1824?-1837). The work is a very fine ōban tetraptych in surimono style, and this was also published by Wataya Kihei and carved by Kasuke [print 4]. The surimono style, known for its enthralling synthesis of artistic and technical abilities, has its origins in the late 1810s and was further developed in the 1820s and 1830s. In the initial stage the use of metallic pigments and other expensive colours, and the use of burnishing, embossing and other extraordinarily refined printing techniques, was notably seen in a number of prints designed by Shunkōsai Hokushū (active 1810-1832) and Gigadō Ashiyuki (active 1813-1833). Apart from the characteristics mentioned in the foregoing, these prints excel in meticulous carving and detail. Sometimes elements of the painterly Shijō style are seen, and more than once a poem is included in the composition.
In the early 1830s Hokuei and Ryūsai Shigeharu (1803-1853) took over the leading position of Hokushū and Ashiyuki, and among connoisseurs the two became known for having produced some of the masterpieces of the Osaka surimono style.3 Now the question arises why the prominent artist Hokuei would work together with newcomer Sadamasu on the expensive production of the tetraptych concerned. Of course, both the publishing firm and Hokuei must have thought Sadamasu capable enough, but here again Sadamasu’s wealth may have played a key part. Although the last seems very plausible, there might also have been quite a different reason for the teamwork of Hokuei, Sadamasu, publisher Wataya Kihei and master-carver Kasuke. Perhaps Sadamasu was not a newcomer at all and already active in Osaka -under a different name- before he entered the studio of Utagawa Kunisada in Edo.
Until now no specific matters, such as an early dated print announcing a name change to Sadamasu, have been recorded to prove this. Some support for this idea raised may be found in the fact that Nobukatsu (active late 1820s-late 1830s), who was a pupil of the distinguished artist Shigeharu, announced on two prints published in the first month of 1833 that he had become a pupil of Sadamasu.4 This is only one year after the first Sadamasu prints had been published in Osaka. Why would Shigeharu’s talented apprentice Nobukatsu all of a sudden defect to newcomer Sadamasu and why was Nobukatsu allowed to use the name Utagawa right away 1/1833? Perhaps this was because Sadamasu at that time was already more important than we assumed until now, or was Sadamasu’s fortune involved again? There is no conclusive answer to this, but I would certainly not rule out that the influence and career of Sadamasu might have had roots in the mid 1820s. After all, from Nobukatsu, the early pupil of Sadamasu, a development can be traced to the mid and even early 1820s. It runs to Shigeharu and, indirectly, to Ganjōsai Kunihiro (active 1816-1841?) and to the Edo artist Yanagawa Shigenobu (1787-1832), who all three were already active as print designers before Sadamasu became a student of Utagawa Kunisada.5 The Utagawa school and Edo printmaking were the strong common factors of the artists involved here, and from this it follows that a number of recorded mutual collaborations are not surprising at all. To mention a few: Nobukatsu under his early name Shigenao worked with Kunihiro on a diptych published 7/1829 (figure 1). Shigeharu, initially a pupil of Kunihiro (and Shigenobu?), collaborated with Kunihiro on a single-sheet print dated 8/1825, on a set of seven prints dated 1/1826, and on six diptychs published between 1/1827 and 1/1830. Sadamasu worked with Kunihiro on a vertical diptych published 3/1834. Further, four different gō and surnames of Nobukatsu and Shigeharu refer to Yanagawa Shigenobu, the Edo artist who is