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Biography: Gochôtei KUNIMASU (五蝶亭國升), earlier SADAMASU (歌川貞升)

Kunimasu deluxe print ebizo
A Kunimasu print circa 2/1850
Ichikawa Ebizô V as Kumagai Jirô Naozane



Sadamasu signatureKunimasu aratame signatureGochôtei Kunimasu (五蝶亭國升), formerly Utagawa Sadamasu 歌川貞升), was active from around the late 1820s until at least 1854. His personal name was Kanaya Wasaburô (金屋和三郎), and one of his Osaka addresses, Nôninbashi Matsuyamachi, Senba (農人橋 松屋町 船場 大阪), was cited in a directory of Osaka called Osaka shôkô meika shû, where he is also listed as "Kunimasu" in 1846. 

Kunimasu was said to be a wealthy real estate owner in the Senba district of Osaka who developed his own school of printmaking. He has been credited with bringing the Osaka style of chûban (中判 approx. 250 x 180 mm) format actor bust portraits (ôkubi-e, or "large head prints," 大首絵) to its full flowering, designing his first example around 1837. (The earliest known single-sheet chûban in a well-developed Osaka style were designed by Shôkôsai Hanbei (松好齋半兵衛 act. c. 1795-1809); these were two full-length designs published in 9/1799.)

Sadamasu began as a student of the Edo artist Utagawa Kunisada I (歌川國貞) while living in Edo sometime between 8/1828 and 3/1830. His earliest known print is a double-ôban (ôbaiban: 大倍判) sumizuri (black pigment only) playbill (banzuke: 番付) issued in 3/1830, most likely published in Edo. After relocating to Osaka no later than 12/1831, Sadamasu designed his first datable nishiki-e (full-color print: 錦絵) in 1/1832, a portrait of Arashi Rikan II (嵐璃寛) in the role of Miyamoto Musashi (宮本無三四), which was carved by the elite block carver horiko Kasuke (彫工加助).

In the Kamigata world of highly skilled amateur ukiyo-e artists, no one but Ryûsai Shigeharu (and probably Hasegawa Sadanobu, 長谷川貞信) made a living entirely from printmaking. Thus Sadamasu was also a rare artist in Osaka, as he enjoyed a substantial income from his family's business (possibly shipbuilding). A brief biography of Sadamasu by the historian Sekine Shisei titled Honchô ukiyo-e gajinden (Biographies of floating-world artists in Japan) published in 1899 identified Sadamasu as a wealthy property owner in the Senba district of Osaka (the city's commercial center at the time) who had studied with Utagawa Kunisada in Edo. Moreover, Sadamasu was said to have used his wealth to create his own school of print design, sponsoring pupils and offering some established Osaka artists guidance as well as support for publishing opportunities.

Kunimasu's’s prints number about 135. Early in his career, when signing as "Sadamasu," he produced most of his ôban (大判 approx. 370 x 280 mm) designs. After the end of strict enforcement of the Tenpô kaikaku (Tenpô reforms: 天保改革) in 1/1847, the chûban format became dominant in Kamigata. Sadamasu declared a name change (aratame, 改) to "Kunimasu" on some chûban prints dated to 1/1848 (see signature below right), although, as mentioned above, an Osaka directory listed him by this name in 1846. This not surprising, as there was often a delay in announcing a name change on actor prints in Osaka. From then on, Kunimasu produced chûban designs in nearly every instance until his last known print in 11/1854.

The most notable exception to the post-Tenpô chûban-format "rule" took place in the second month of 1850 when the leading actor Ichikawa Ebizô V (市川海老蔵) left Osaka for Edo. When the news spread that he would play the part of Kumagai Jirô Naozane (熊谷次郎直実), one of his favorite roles, in 3/1850 at the Kawarazaki Theater in Edo, fans in Osaka were heartbroken to learn that they would miss such a performance. Most likely, the magnificent ôban print shown at the upper left was designed on the occasion of the actor’s departure as a way of providing a special memento to a circle of wealthy kabuki fans in Osaka who could afford to purchase such a deluxe masterpiece of Osaka printmaking.


Utagawa (歌川)

Art Names (geimei)

Sadamasu 貞升)
Kunimasu (國升) from 5/1848

Pseudonyms ()

Gochôtei (五蝶亭)
Gochôsai (五蝶齋)
Ichijuen (一樹園)
Ichijusai (一樹齋)
Ichijutei (一樹亭)

Artist Seals

Among the seals found on Sadamasu's prints, there are examples reading Sada (貞), Sadamasu (貞升), Utagawa (歌川), Utagawa Kunimasu (歌川國升), and Wasa (和三). Another seal reads Ju (longevity: 寿 or 壽), which is placed within the form of a bat. Having connections with Utagawa artists, Sadamasu also used their Toshidama seal ("New Year Jewel": 年玉).

Pupils of Sadamasu (Kunimasu)

[Utagawa] Hirosada (歌川廣貞 act. c. 1835-1850s; previous name Hirokuni 廣國 early 1847-5/1847)
Masunobu (升信 act. c. 1847-1851; previous name Kiyosada 清貞 until 5/1848)
Masuharu (升春 act. c. 1849-1850)
Nobukatsu (信勝 act. c. late 1820s-late 1830s; previous name Shigenao 重直 until 9/1829)
Sadamasu II (貞升 act. c. 1848-52)
[Hasegawa] Sadanobu (長谷川貞信 1809-1879, act. c. 1834-1879)

The following artists might have been pupils of Sadamasu:
Kagematsu (景松 act. c. 1830s-1840s
Masukuni (升國 act. c. 1851-1852)
Masunao (升直 act. c. 1847)
Masusada (升貞 act. c. 1848-1850)
Masutsuru (升鶴 act. c. 1852)
Sadakiyo (貞清 act. c. early 1840s)
Sadayoshi (貞芳 act. c. 1832(37)–1853)
Sadayuki (貞雪 act. c. 1839-1840)

For more information about Kunimasu, see: