Judging from the number and the high quality of his chūban prints, he seems to have played a part of some importance in the process of developing the style, alongside Sadamasu, whom he knew as a friend for many years.5 Apart from his chūban in the new style that were published between 1840 and 1842, Sadanobu also designed a small number of high quality koban or quarter-block prints with actors’ bust portraits in those years. Their style is identical to the new chūban style and presumably all these quarter-block prints were published in pairs or as diptychs on chūban paper size.

Sadamasu's career beeld

Figure 3.

Sadahiro. A chūban in the new style, depicting Kataoka Gadō II as Sukune Tarō in Tenmangū natane no gokū, staged at the Naka Theatre 4/1841. Signed: Sadahiro ga. Publisher’s (?) seal: Akioka aratame.

Private collection.

The artist who until recently had been held responsible for having created the Osaka chūban style, Utagawa Hirosada (possibly identical with Sadahiro; see hereafter), is known for only four chūban prints that were published before the spring of 1842. We now know that ‘his’ chūban style already was developed before the promulgation of the Tenpō Reforms, with Sadamasu being the leading artist and Sadanobu closely following.

In Sadamasu’s ōban prints from this period, notably in a handful of ōban bust portraits, parallels to the new chūban style can be seen. One of the best examples is a bust portrait of Ichikawa Morinosuke II in the role of the legendary Chinzei Hachirō Tametomo, depicted on a kite [print 47]. 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, especially when comparing it with the chūban published 1/1841, depicting the same actor [print 61]. The similarities include the rich palette and the advanced and expensive printing techniques that had become a hallmark of the artist’s prints. Also the element of showing the fan and bow only partly on the ōban, is a stylistic device of the new chūban style.

Another fine ōban print of these years, though it is not a bust portrait, is a surimono-style portrayal of the narrator Hanaedabo Enba, published 3/1840 [print 54]. The signature indicates that the print was commissioned, which might explain here the rather unusual subject for an Osaka print. Whoever commissioned the portrayal of the narrator, it is beyond question that the production of the print has been a very expensive one. Every effort has been made on decorations and other details of the image, and on its luxurious appearance. In certain places metallic pigments are shown, beautiful shading appears in the blue passage at top, and imitated wood grain is seen on the oblong cartouche and cubic stove, and on the printed frame that forms part of the image. This print indisputably shows Sadamasu’s high artistic qualities, his sophisticated taste, and his preference for applying surimono printing. 

Although this period brought forth some of the artist’s best ōban prints, it was first of all characterized by the development of the new chūban style. Roughly three-quarters of his oeuvre published between 8/1839 and 3/1842 is on the chūban format.