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Artist: Utagawa Hirosada (歌川広貞)

Alternate names:
Sadahiro
Gosōtei Hirosada

Lifetime: circa 1810 - 1864

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Biography:

"...Hirosada was the most prolific and most influential pints designer who worked in the city of Ōsaka in the nineteenth century; he was also the most serious and accomplished. He seems to have begun his career abruptly in 1847 without antecedents and worked steadily through 1852 producing over eight hundred prints, after which his work suddenly declined, first in quality and then in number, until the last print appeared in 1861. As the clouds of history dissipate, however, a very different picture emerges. We see a precocious youth who attracted the attention of the most influential teachers of print design both in Ōsaka and Edo; an artist who had worked for twenty-five years and established himself both as a leading Ōsaka artist and an important print publisher before he changed his name to Hirosada in 1847 and made his 'debut.' At the height of his career, around 1850, we see a modest, mature, retiring man, generous to his friends, who accepted other people's generosity in return, an artist who limited himself by choice to a single subject: portraits of kabuki actors. Within this chosen limitation Hirosada created some of the most brilliantly designed, deeply felt and beautifully produced woodblock prints of the nineteenth century. Then at the end of 1852, while still in his early or mid-forties when he was at the height of his ability and influence, Hirosada suddenly retired and gave his name to a fourteen year old student and produced no more prints until his death in 1864.

Hirosada was born in Ōsaka around 1810 into a merchant's family with ancestral connections in Kyōto. His family's business name was Kyōmaruya and the artist's personal name was Seijiro. Like many Japanese print designers in the nineteenth century, he was precociously talented. By the age of twelve or thirteen he was invited to join a circle of poets in Ōsaka led by the print designer Jukōdō Yoshikuni. Yoshikuni gave the boy his first name, Tamikuni, and one of his verses was included on a woodblock print published around the beginning of 1823. In the middle of 1823 Hirosada designed his first woodblock print. Like most prints published in Ōsaka, it was a portrait of kabuki actors in current roles and, like the verse, it was also signed Tamikuni.

At the end of 1823, Tokuraya Shimbei, one of the leading Ōsaka publishers, published Hirosada's first important print, a large close-up portrait of the actor Onoe Tamizō II against a yellow background... Tokuraya specially honored the youth by inscribing the design with a verse he had composed.

Between 1823 and 1826 Hirosada designed at least nine other portraits of kabuki actors. In 1826 he adopted the clan name Toyokawa that belonged to his teacher Yoshikuni and a secondary name, Kōgadō, modeled on his teacher's studio name, Jukōdō. Hirosada was around sixteen at this time and, while he was affirming his tie to his first teacher Yoshikuni, he also seems to have sought an independent identity of his own. At any rate, that year he designed a privately produced actor portrait which he sealed with a new clan name, Konishi, and signed with an entirely new are name, Gochō. This period of Hirosada's life ended when, late in 1826 or early in 1827, the young artist left Ōsaka for Edo to study with Utagawa Kunisada, the most important designer of actor prints in the entire country. Kunisada accepted the boy as a pupil and soon gave him a new art name, Sadahiro.

Hirosada returned to Ōsaka in 1830, but soon afterwards resumed his studies with Kunisada in Edo and there befriended a fellow pupil, Utagawa Sadamasu, the wealthy Ōsaka townsman who later became his patron. The two returned to Ōsaka in the entourage of the actor Ichikawa Ebizō V (Danjūrō VII) in the spring of 1834 and each designed a print for a theater performance in the third month of that year. Hirosada's print was signed Kōgadō Tamikuni, his last reminder to the citizens of Ōsaka that the boy who had left to study in Edo eight years earlier had finally come home. From later in 1834 through the spring of 1841 the prints and book illustrations he designed in Ōsaka were signed Sadahiro.

Quoted from: Hirosada: Ōsaka Printmaker by Roger Keyes, 1984, pp. 8-9.

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The reading of Hirosada's name in Japanese literature on ukiyo-e is most often 歌川広貞. However, even though the authors are using 広, i.e., hiro, it is often written on his prints as 廣.

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In A Dictionary of Japanese Artists by Lawrence P. Roberts, Hirosada is mentioned as a pupil of Kunimasu Utagawa with the dates of fl. 1819-1865.