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Subject: Nakamura Utaemon IV.

Date: 9/1837 or 11/1840?

Signature: Sadamasu ga

Format: chūban

Collection: Rijksmuseum Amsterdam.

Utaemon’s role is not mentioned on the print and until now it is not identified with certainty. There is much similarity to the role of Hōjō Tokiyori shown on a chūban by Sadanobu. It was published 9/1837, when Utaemon impersonated Tokiyori in the play Kaikei yuki hachinoki at the Naka Theatre. In Sadanobu’s print the actor has not yet thrown off his headgear to show his shaven monk’s head, but the pose and the detailed decorative patterns on the clothes have the same appearance as those on Sadamasu’s print in question. Especially also note the position of the left hand on the hilt of the sword. (See Schwaab, D.J., Osaka Prints, pl. 215) (misdated 5/1849).

The role of Taira Kiyomori is a second possibility, but Utaemon did not play this role during his stay in Osaka, 11/1833-1/1838. However, in the late 1830s and early 1840s, to please the kabuki fans in Osaka, Sadayoshi and Sadanobu designed a few prints depicting popular actors in roles they performed in Edo.1 So, it is quite possible that Sadamasu’s chūban is related to Utaemon’s performance of Taira Kiyomori at the Ichimura Theatre in Edo, 11/1840. It is of interest to note that two of Sadanobu's prints related to perfomances in Edo depict Utaemon IV with a make-up and facial expression very similar to Sadamasu's portrayal of the actor.2

Some attribute this print to Sadamasu II and consider it a memorial portrait of Utaemon IV (as Taira Kiyomori), published 1/1852. However, its style, the shape of the signature cartouche, the decorative details and the rich colouring, are clearly different from the works by Sadamasu II and indicate a date in the late 1830s or early 1840s, rather than one in the late 1840s or early 1850s. Further, during the years immediately preceding the Tenpō Reforms a number of chūban prints (by Sadanobu, Sadamasu and Sadayoshi) were published of which the images are placed within a rectangular frame with bevelled corners. The frame around the images on these prints is composed of two black parallel lines and between the thin lines a plain colour is printed. The frame is just like the one seen in Sadamasu’s portrait of Utaemon.3

Within the context of the subject matter it should be mentioned that the stylised bat-shaped cartouche also is present on a print by Sadamasu's pupil Sadayuki. The print was published 1/1839.

The presence of the cartouche in question seems no coincidence.4

Impressions of Sadamasu's portrayal of Utaemon IV show differences in the printing (graded colours or plain colours) and the pigments (standard or deluxe pigments) used. Impressions with red backgrounds and blue backgrounds are known.


1. Matsudaira, S., Shodai Hasegawa Sadanobu hanga sakuhin ichiran, pl. 48, 59, 60 and 93; Matsudaira, S., Kamigata yakusha-e shūsei, vol. 3, pl. 25, 26 and 186.

2. Matsudaira, S., Shodai Hasegawa Sadanobu hanga sakuhin ichiran, pl. 59 and 60.
3. Matsudaira, S., Kamigata yakusha-e shūsei, vol. 3, pl. 25, 29, 122, 123 and 180; Lühl, H., Helden, Schurken, Kurtisanen, pl. 188.

4. Matsudaira, S., Kamigata yakusha-e shūsei, pl. 226.