lines combined with colour, usually pale blue, which is printed between the black lines. The role, and before the Tenpō Reforms 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. Of the objects that are used in a particular kabuki scene, such as a fan, sword, Chinese lantern, or musical instrument, usually only a small part is shown on the print. 

On the two Sadamasu chūban prints published 8/1839, being portrayals of the actors Arashi Tokusaburō III and Kataoka Ichizō I, only the head and the upper torso of the actors is depicted. The artist excluded the rest of the body and any indication of a background setting. In the act represented here, both actors carry a fan and a sword, but the artist showed only a very small part of the objects in the images. By using these artistic devices the artist encouraged the print public to visualize the whole figure in the particular scene of the play in question, which, by the way, was a simple exercise for frequent theatregoers. This was not a completely new approach, as it was seen in a few prints of some predecessors of Sadamasu, but combined with the characteristics already mentioned it created a style that was not seen before neither in Osaka, nor in Edo.3 The two prints mark the beginnings of the Osaka chūban style.

In 1840 and 1841 Sadamasu designed several very similar prints. These, together with his first two chūban in this style and most of his other prints from this period, make clear that the artist had developed a very good sense of colour and excelled in using a fine palette dominated by intense colours with subtle contrasts. On most of the artist’s chūban prints from these years of his career, the signature is placed in a gourd-shaped cartouche, adopted from the Toshidama seal of Kunisada.4

As only a few of Sadamasu’s early chūban prints bear a publisher’s mark, some scholars have put forward that the artist may have paid for, or at least has subsidized the production of these prints himself. However, on these prints and Osaka chūban prints in general, the hand-stamped or printed publisher’s seal usually is placed in the margin at bottom left or right, and frequently the margins have been trimmed close to the border of the image. Predominantly the damage was caused when the sizes of all prints of sets or collections were adapted to the sizes of the smallest print. Most of the early chūban prints are somewhat larger than the ones published from 1847 onwards. Since contemporary collectors often brought both types of chūban together in one album, the early prints were trimmed to the sizes of the later ones and as a result lost any seal that was stamped or printed in the margins.

Surviving impressions of Sadamasu’s early chūban prints that are not trimmed, show a publisher’s seal in quite a few cases, which at least refutes to some extent the idea of his financing the production. The seals recorded on Sadamasu’s early chūban prints are those of the publishers Izutsuya Denbei (4x), Honya Seishichi (3x), and Sakaika (or Kaika) (1x). Apparently Sadamasu’s chūban prints were produced in a small edition, like many of his other prints, as almost all extant impressions appear to be fine and early. Most likely the artist had adopted a very critical eye towards the quality of the impressions of his prints and often managed to have the printing stopped before the blocks began to show signs of wear.

The first Sadamasu chūban prints in this style probably were received with great acclaim, since they were soon imitated by a number of contemporary Osaka artists. Sadayoshi, Sadahiro, Sadanobu, and Toyohide are among the ones who began to design chūban prints in the new style (figure 3). Of these artists Sadanobu was the most productive in this field.