Sadamasu's career beeld

Figure 2.

Shigeharu. A surimono-style ōban portrait of the actor Nakamura Shikan II, who is depicted in the roles of Ariwara no Narihira and Bunya no Yasuhide. Published on the occasion of the performance of Rokkasen sugata no saishiki at the Kado Theatre, 1/1834. Signed: Ryūsai Shigeharu. The poem is by Kangetsu.

Collection: Rijks Museum Amsterdam.


A few other prints of those years of Sadamasu’s career show that the artist increasingly used the skill of the best carvers and printers, thus aiming at the high technical level that was the hallmark of several of Hokuei’s and Shigeharu’s prints. His surimono style was fully matured by the mid 1830s, which can be seen in a splendid full-length portrait of the actor Nakamura Shikan II as the Hakkenden hero Inuyama Dōsetsu [print 13]. The print is published late 1835 or early 1836, by the leading firm Tenmaya Kihei. It shows excellent colouring, with beautiful shading, extensive use of metallic pigments, embossing, burnishing, overprinting and superb carving. Only some very small spaces on the paper are left blank. Although the artist’s wealth and social network presumably have played a part in the realization of this print, we cannot but recognize its artistic high level. The overall composition, the pose of the actor who is about to take action with his long sword drawn, the facial expression, the well-considered positioning of the colours and their contrasts, the use of both silhouettes and shaded figures, all these elements distinctly demonstrate the matured artistry of Sadamasu.

It is not inconceivable that the befriended artist Sadahiro was involved in the publication of the print concerned. Sadahiro returned to Osaka in 1835 and only a few months after his arrival he seems to have become closely associated with the publishing firm Tenmaya Kihei. This association was maintained until 1852. The publisher’s seal Naniwa Kinkadō Konishi seems to refer to Sadahiro, but the exact standing of the artist in the Tenmaya business is unknown.9 The seal in question appears at bottom left on the Sadamasu surimono-style portrayal of Nakamura Shikan II. The date of publication of this print justifies the idea that Sadahiro most likely was involved in the process. Anyhow, from around this time onward the careers of the two men often brought them together, with Sadamasu as the leading artist and assumingly acting as a patron. 

Until the publication of the print discussed here, Sadamasu had not been very productive and this continued for about another two years, after which he all of a sudden began to increase the production, which reached its peak around 1840.