Utagawa , who also used the pseudonym Gofûtei (五風亭), was an Edo artist active c. 1818-44, and a pupil of Utagawa Kunisada I (一代 國貞). He produced yakusha-e (actor prints), musha-e (warrior prints), kachô-e (bird and flower prints), and bijin-ga (beautiful women prints), all in an Utagawa style modeled after the oeuvre of Kunisada (Toyokuni III).
The Dôtonbori (Dôton Canal) was a street in Osaka populated with theaters and teahouses, typically referred to today as Osaka's main theater "district." In the 1830s there were six kabuki theaters lined up in a row along a narrow steet bordering the south bank of the Dôtonbori (the far shore of the present design by Sadatora). These were the Onishi, Naka, Kado, Kadomaru, Wakadayû, and Takeda theaters. A short distance to the northwest of the street was the Kita-Horie Ichinogawa Theater, and to the immediate north of the Dôtonbori was Shimanouchi, the largest unofficial pleasure district in Osaka.
The actors portrayed here are as follows: (1R) Nakamura Matsue III (中村松江) and Nakamura Utaemon III (中村歌右衛門); (2R) Ichikawa Hakuen II (市川白猿) and Bandô Hikosaburô IV (坂東彦三郎); and (3R) Ichikawa Danzô V (市川團蔵???) and Bandô Tamasaburô (坂東玉三郎). Sadatora's triptych is thus is a portrayal of Kamigata and Edo actors. One notable, the Edo superstar Ichikawa Hakuen II (Ichikawa Danjûrô VII, 1791-1859; 市川 團十郎) was on temporary relocation to Osaka, Kyoto, and its provinces after fires destroyed the three main theaters in Edo in 3/1829). The actors stand on the northside of the canal across from the theater street to the south.
Each sheet identifies theaters as well as teahouses and bridges named in small cartouches in the background. For the theaters, the right sheet names the Onishi (大西 called here by its alternate name Chikugo ちくご) and the Naka (中); the center sheet shows the Kado (角) and Kadomaru (角丸); and the right sheet indicates the Wakadayû (若太夫) and Takeda (竹田).
A view of Dôtonbori, Osaka such as this one with actors depicted while on an outing away from the kabuki stage is exceedingly rare. Even more so is this complete triptych by an Edo artist.
References: SDK, no. 274 (1R sheet only); Waseda University (inv 012-0106; 1R sheet only)