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Biography: Konishi HIROSADA (小西廣貞)

Hirosada xxxxxxxxxxx
Hirosada print from 2/1847
Kataoka Gadô II as Chinzei Hachirô Tametomo
A rare ôban design from an artist
who specialized in chûban-format prints
("Konishi" artist seal at lower right)




Hirosada signatureKonishi Hirosada (小西廣貞), act. c. 1847-1863; died c. 1865) was the leading print designer, painter, and book illustrator of the mid-nineteenth century in Osaka. His given name was Kyômaruya Seijirô. He studied for a time with Utagawa Kunimasu (歌川國升 act. c. 1830-54 earlier called Sadamasu 貞升). Hirosada's use of the "Utagawa" surname confirms a connection with Edo-based Utagawa Kunisada I (歌川國貞). In the fourth or fifth month of 1852, Hirosada visited Edo, together with Sadamasu and Utagawa Sadayoshi (歌川貞芳 act. c. 1832-1853), where the three Osaka artists designed backgrounds and insets for prints in two series by Kunisada. Most likely their contributions to the series were made within a short time span and published afterwards, as the prints in question continued to appear after Hirosada had resumed his production in Osaka in 8/1852. Consistent with these dates, no prints designed by Hirosada appear to have been published in Osaka during the fourth through seventh months of 1852.

Hirosada's earlier art name was Hirokuni (廣國), but in 5/1847, he indicated on a published print that he had changed his name to Hirosada (廣貞). The aforementioned tutelage with Utagawa Kunimasu is acknowledged in the background of a print by Kunisada published in Edo in 8/1852 for the series Edo Murasaki gojûyon jô (Fifty-four chapters of Edo Purple: 江戸紫五十四帖). Hirosada's contribution appeared on the design for Chapter 4 Yûgao ("Evening face": 夕颜). He signed his name Kunimasu monjin Hirosada ("Hirosada, pupil of Kunimasu": 國升門人廣貞).

Hirosada's actor likenesses (nigao: 似顔) were supremely confident, achieving a high standard of portraiture that would have pleased the patrons of actors and the buyers of ukiyo-e prints, and providing models for contemporary artists and those of the next generation to emulate. His prints explored both the main lines of dramatic kabuki narratives and the more subtle emotional dialogues among the stage characters — including imaginative, interactive arrangements of figures and their expressive physiognomies — that was unusual in nineteenth-century Osaka printmaking.

A superior draftsman and prolific print artist, Hirosada appears to have designed more than 800 prints, nearly all in the chûban format (中判 approx. 250 x 180 mm). Thus his ôban prints (大判 approx. 370 x 280 mm) are few. One example is shown on the left from a series titled Kômei buyûden ("Legendary tales of bravery" or "Tales of brave warriors of renown": 高名武勇傳). The actors are depicted in roundels meant to represent mirrors as well as telescopic views of the performers on stage.

The scholar Roger Keyes proposed (Theatrical World of Osaka Prints, 1973) that Hirosada might have been the proprietor of the Tenki (Tenmaya Kihei 天満屋喜兵衞 died 11/1865) publishing firm, which in 1835 changed its name to Tenki Kinkadô Konishi (天喜金花[華]堂小西, the last name thus being the same as Hirosada's surname). However, Hirosada was not the only artist to use the Konishi surname, as Hasegawa Sadanobu I used it at least by 1843 (when, it is said, he was adopted by Tenki), thus suggesting both artists were acknowledging the publisher Tenki in their signatures or seals rather than "declaring" they were proprietors of the firm. More problematically, Keyes also conjectured that Hirosada was the same artist as Gochôtei Sadahiro (五蝶亭貞廣 act. c. 1830–1853). It is true that Hirosada used a seal reading "Sadahiro" (see table below) and an art name () reading "Gochôtei," which Sadahiro used as well. Moreover, Hirosada's most commonly used was Gosôtei (五粽亭), a name that was also used by Sadahiro. These overlapping names, not to mention the stylistic similarities in print design between the two artists, do bring up interesting associations, but the question of Hirosada's identity remains unresolved. For instance, among the difficulties with this attribution is the simultaneous use of "Sadahiro" and "Hirosada" in the late 1840s and early 1850s, which lacks a convincing explanation. For the time being, the consensus remains that the artists Hirosada and Sadahiro were different print designers.

Hirosada's names/signatures/seals

Konishi (小西)
Utagawa (歌川)

Art Names ():
Hirokuni (廣國)
Hirosada (廣貞)

Art pseudonyms (geimei):
Gosôtei (五粽亭)
Gorakutei (五楽亭)

Hirosada: Artist Seals

Hirosada used a great variety of artist seals, likely more than 15 and as many as 20, with different readings.

Note: Seals reading Han Sada (板貞) and Kinsekidô (金石堂) have been cited in the literature, but are not yet identified here.

The images of seals shown in the following provisional table were found in various sources; hence, their quality varies significantly. Question marks indicate tentative readings of the seals.

Hirosada signature & gocho seal
Chô (長) Gochô (五長) Gosôtei (五粽亭) Hirosada (廣貞) ?

Hirosada signature & gocho seal
Kô (小)
Konishi Gochô (小西 五長)
Konishi (小西) ?
Rankei (蘭畦)
Sada (貞) Sada-han (貞板) ? Sadahiro (貞廣)  
Unidentified Unidentified Unidentified Unidentified

Pupils of Hirosada

Sadahiro II (二代 貞廣 earlier name Hirokane 廣兼, surname: Mitani 三谷, : Shôkôtei 照皇亭, act. c. 1862–1918)
Sadayuki (貞行 act. c. early 1850s)
Hironobu (廣信 Kinoshita 木下, Hakusuisai 白水齋, Goyôtei 五葉亭, Gohotei 五蒲亭, Tôrin 東林, Ashinoya 芦野家 act. c. 1851–72)

Other possible students include:
Kiyosada (清貞, geimei: Ittôsai Masunobu 一刀齋升信, act. c. 1847–52)
Hiroshige (廣重 act. c. 1849(?)–65); not the same artist as Utagawa Hiroshige I (歌川廣重) in Edo
Hirohisa (廣久 act. c. late 1840s)
Sadahide (貞英, act. c. mid 1860s); not the same artist as Utagawa Sadahide (歌川貞秀) in Edo

For more information about Hirosada, see John Fiorillo's web page: