Sadamasu’s career

On a memorial stone erected for Utagawa Toyokuni I (1769-1825) at the Myōken Temple in Edo in 8/1828, Sadamasu is not mentioned among the names of the pupils of Utagawa Kunisada (pupil of Toyokuni I), so it is obvious that Sadamasu came to Edo some time later, to study with Kunisada. 
Utagawa Sadamasu’s earliest print known so far, is a banzuke (theatre playbill) dated 3/1830. followed by prints published 1/1832.  

Three years after the death of Utagawa Toyokuni I (1769-1825), the leading artist of the Utagawa school in Edo, the artists of the school took the initiative to erect a memorial stone for their teacher. The stone was erected at the Myōken Temple in the Yanagishima district of Honjo in Edo, 8/1828. On the stone the names of twenty-eight former pupils of Toyokuni I are listed first, after which twelve of these are mentioned again, but now with pupils of their own. Among the eleven pupils of Toyokuni’s pupil Kunisada are the names of three artists originating from Osaka: Sadafusa, Sadanobu and Sadahiro.
In Sadamasu’s signature on a painting created c. mid 1830, and his signatures on two of his prints published 1834 in Osaka and on four published c. 1845, in 1852 and in 1853 in Edo, he indicates being a pupil of Kunisada. Since his name is not among Kunisada’s pupils listed on the memorial stone, it is quite obvious that Sadamasu came to Edo some time later than 8/1828. On the artist’s earliest print known so far, a banzuke (theatre playbill) dated 3/1830, his signature reads eshi (artist) Utagawa Sadamasu sha (or ga?). He received both names from his teacher, so the artist must have commenced his study with Kunisada in Edo some time between 8/1828 and 3/1830. One is a joint work of leading Osaka artist Shunbaisai Hokuei (active 1824?-1837) and newcomer Sadamasu, a very fine ōban tetraptych (four ōban, each roughly 26 x 38 cm) in surimono style. The style is known for its enthralling synthesis of artistic and technical abilities, such as the use of burnishing, embossing, and metallic pigments.
Sadamasu's career beeld
Sadamasu apparently designed only a small number of prints in the following years, but in these he increasingly used the skill of the best carvers and printers. The artist’s surimono style was fully matured by the mid 1830s, which can be seen in a splendid full-length portrait of the actor Nakamura Utaemon IV (Shikan II) as the Hakkenden hero Inuyama Dōsetsu. The print was published early 1836-1837 by the leading firm Tenmaya Kihei, printed by Horio Toyosaburo, and the blocks were carved by Matsukura Kumazō.
In the ninth month of 1837 Sadamasu portrayed the actor Utaemon IV again full length, but this time he designed a print for the half-block or chūban format. It marks the beginning of a period in which the artist was going to develop a chūban style of his own, preceding the so-called Osaka chūban style for which Hirosada for a long time was held responsible. Up to the late 1830s the half-block format was only occasionally used in Osaka, but from 1838 onwards it gradually gained interest. Different artists participated in the process, but it is Sadamasu who has popularised the format and accounted for more than half of the total chūban production between 1838 and early 1842. The prints show close-up portraits of actors that are drawn with a bold directness and placed in a frame brought about by a somewhat broad line or by two thin parallel black lines combined with colour, usually pale blue, which is printed between the black lines. The role and especially the name of the actor is ‘written’ in bold characters in the upper part of the print. From the late 1830s until early 1842 this was usually done on a plain or shaded background. Later, when it was forbidden to mention actors’ names on prints, the names of roles increasingly were placed in cartouches.
In Sadamasu’s ōban prints from the late 1830s and early 1840s, notably in a handful of bust portraits, parallels to the new chūban style can be seen. One of the best examples is a bust portrait of Ichikawa Morinosuke I in the role of the legendary Chinzei Hachirō Tametomo, depicted on a kite. When we substitute the background at top for a plain or shaded one, the close up of the actor could be considered a popped-up chūban. The similarities include the rich palette and the advanced and expensive printing techniques that had become a hallmark of the artist’s prints.
Sadamasu's career beeld
The print production in Osaka was brought to a standstill in 1842. Due to years of economic recession during the Tenpō period (1830-1843), several governmental measures were promulgated, including a ban on producing and selling actor prints. From the mid 1840s on, a gradual loosening of the promulgated anti-luxury laws was seen, but no actor prints were published in Osaka until 1847. In the spring of that year the print production was resumed cautiously and gradually increased in the months that followed. The pioneering artists and publishers, putting the officials to a test, added fictitious titles to their prints, such as Tales of honour and martial arts, and  A hundred tales of bravery of our country, suggesting that the portraits were no actor prints but actually representations of famous men and women from history and legend.
Sadamasu's career beeld
Sadamasu picked up the thread with two chūban (i.e. koban diptychs), published late 1847 or early 1848, followed by a chūban triptych on which he announced his name change from Sadamasu to Kunimasu. Many of his prints of this new period are beautiful examples of the chūban style and a few prints even are among the best of the Osaka genre. Of the last, a magnificent bust portrait of the actor Ichikawa Ebizō V should be mentioned. With its ōban size it is one of the very few exceptions to the artist’s chūban of the later period. The actor is portrayed as Kumagai Jirō Naozane. He is placed in a rectangular frame with bevelled corners that is brought about by a single black line. The artistically well-considered combination of elements such as the facial expression with its powerful make-up and bulging eyes, the beautiful ornaments on the dark coat that are printed in a variety of metallic pigments, the plain passage of saturated vermilion, and the stylised cloud printed in gold and heavily embossed, make this print surely one of the highlights of Osaka printmaking
Another beautiful example is an unusual chūban diptych of which the left panel shows a full-length figure, while the right panel depicts a bust portrait. At left appears Ichikawa Shikō III as Hayano Kanpei, and at right Arashi Rikan III is portrayed as the wounded Ono no Sadakurō. Interesting is the way in which the artist has managed to weld the two panels together. This is not only achieved with the composition of the sky, mountains, smoke and pine-tree that fill the background as a whole. It is also realized by executing the background exclusively in tones of grey and combining this with a well considered balanced positioning of the coloured parts.

From 1850 on, for unknown reasons Sadamasu (Kunimasu) designed prints only occasionally and at long intervals, and after a short stay in Edo in 1852 his production must have declined to a large extent, since a chūban diptych published 3/1853 and a single-sheet chūban published 11/1854 are the only recorded works from these years. The latter print is possibly the artist’s last one.