Sao no uta Kizugawa hakkei (Song of the boat pole: Eight views of the Kizu River: 棹歌木津川八景), written by the Osaka-born playwright Namiki Gohei I (1747-1808), premiered in 7/1778 when he was already a leading Osaka dramaturge. Gohei also worked in Edo starting in 1794, where he commanded a large annual salary of 300 ryô. He introduced various theatrical techniques and interpretations from Kamigata (Kyoto-Osaka) into Edo plays, in those instances modifying Edo performance style. It appears that the plot of Sao no uta Kizugawa hakkei remains unknown to present-day scholars.
The young Ichikawa Ebijûrô II (1806-11/1829) started the year 1829 in fine form, having been judged in the January yakusha hyôbanki (actor evaluation books: 評判記) as the best performer of villain roles in Kamigata. Sadly, he succumbed to illness during this (his last) performance. Unable to recover, he never returned to the stage, and died in the eleventh month of the same year.
This dramatic gassaku (collaborative work: 合作) is illustrative of a genre wherein two or more artists contributed designs for the same composition or on the same theme in a shared pictorial space. Both Edo and Kamigata printmakers found gassaku especially useful when combining established artists with neophytes, or masters with their students. Here, Kunihiro (worked c. 1816-41) was the older artist; Shigenao (worked c. 1828-41) was the earlier art name used by Nobukatsu, who had his first prints published (apparently) only the year before the diptych shown here.
Note that in our diptych, Ebijûrô wears a white kimono with a clever design in blue that features gourds shaped from stylized characters for ichi (市) at the top and kawa (川) at the bottom, forming the ideograms in his acting-family name, Ichikawa.
References: IBKYS-II, no. 53; PPO, p. 188, no. 47; KNP-6, p. 214