Please note that the version of the essay published here is a provisional one. The given information may change as a result of ongoing research.

SADAMASU’S CAREER                                     Written by Jan van Doesburg © 2012.


Personal particulars                                                            1.    

The early years of Sadamasu’s career                              2.

Chūban prints                                                                     6.  

The Tenpō Reforms                                                            9.

The Kunimasu years                                                         11.

Pupils of Sadamasu                                                          13.

Bibliography                                                                      14.


Print numbers put in square brackets refer to the prints listed under Sadamasu’s work.

Personal particulars

The influential Osaka artist Utagawa Sadamasu, later in his career known as Utagawa Kunimasu, was the leading artist in the development of what is often called the Osaka chūban style. Many of his prints show high quality of design and are sumptuously printed with metallic pigments, embossing, burnishing, overprinting and other tour-de-force techniques, equalled by only a small part of the oeuvre of Sadamasu’s contemporaries. Apart from having designed prints of his own, he was known for having offered guidance to several Osaka artists and for stimulating their artistic talents.

Many Osaka artists were essentially amateur artists who derived their living from other means and this is not different with Sadamasu. The artist is only sporadically mentioned in contemporary documents and as a result virtually nothing is known of his life and personal details. The year of his birth and that of his death are unknown, neither do we have any information on personal details of for instance the artist’s parents or other relatives. However, in a small number of old documents Sadamasu is mentioned as a woodblock-print artist, and in a few cases there is some concise additional information available. The facts are as follows.

  • In the third volume of Naniwa zasshi chimata no uwasa (also known as Machi no uwasa), written by Heitei Ginkei and dated 1835, Sadamasu is mentioned as a master at ukiyo-e.1
  • In a sequel to Kikumamanoki, written by Kimura Mokuō (Uyūsanjin) in 1836 or 1837, Utagawa Sadamasu is mentioned among several other well-known printmakers active in Osaka.
  • The revised edition of Naniwa shogei tamazukushi, which was published 8/1840, lists Sadamasu as one of the four most famous designers of ukiyo-e bust portraits, alongside Ryūsai Shigeharu, Hasegawa Sadanobu and Utagawa Sadahiro.
  • In the manuscript Keisetsu gesakusha kō, compiled by Kimura Mokuō (Uyūsanjin) in the early to mid 1840s, the author mentions that Utagawa Sadamasu lived near Nōninbashi. He added to this that the artist’s common name was Kaneya Wasaburō, being a master, second only to Ryūtei (the last name is not known from other sources, but here the author of the manuscript apparently refers to Ryūsai Shigeharu).
  • Kunimasu (i.e. Sadamasu) is listed as a woodblock-print artist in Osaka shōkō meika shū, a printed directory of Osaka, published 1846. According to the anonymous author the artist lived in Matsuyamachi near Nōninbashi.
  • Around the beginning of the Meiji period (1868-1912) the historian Sekine Shisei wrote a short biography of Sadamasu. It was included in Honchō ukiyo-e gajinden, a compilation of biographies published in 1899. The author states that Sadamasu was a wealthy householder in the Senba district of Osaka, who studied with the popular artist Utagawa Kunisada in Edo. According to the historian, Sadamasu had many pupils, offered guidance to several Osaka artists, and used his wealth to create his own school of print design.

According to authors of some relatively recent publications Sadamasu was a shipbuilder and the son of a rich merchant.2 Although his exact status remains unclear, we may conclude that Sadamasu was a wealthy artist who not only used his money and artistic talents to produce prints of his own, but also to give guidance to Osaka artists.

To the artist’s personal details given in the foregoing, we may add several names that are found in the signatures and seals appearing in his oeuvre. Also Sadamasu’s period of activity can be deduced from his prints, as nowadays most of these are dated accurately. All details together result in the following brief summary.