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Biography: Ryûsai SHIGEHARU (鉚齋重春)

Shigeharu 1830 rikan as mashiba
Shigeharu print from 1/1830
Arashi Rikan II as Mashiba Hisatsugu
in Keisei setsugekka




Shokosai signatureRyûsai Shigeharu (鉚齋重春 active c. 1821–41) was born in Nagasaki, but moved to Osaka as a child. His surnames were Yamaguchi (山口) and Takigawa (瀧川), and personal names Yasuhide (安秀) and Jinjirô (甚治郎). He was a pupil of Utagawa Kunihiro (歌川國廣) and appears to have been associated with the Edo artist Yanagawa Shigenobu (柳川重信) when Shigenobu stayed in Osaka from 1822 to 1825. Shigeharu was cited at the top of a list of block copyists on the single-sheet broadside Naniwa shoryû gajin meika annai (Guide to the many famous contemporary artists of Osaka: 浪華諸流画人名家案内) circa 1831, where his address is given as Mitsuderamachi.

Shigeharu is mentioned in the 1835 book Naniwa zasshi chimata no uwasa (A miscellany of gossip about the town of Osaka: 浪華雑誌街能噂), by Heitei Ginkei (平亭銀鷄 [鶏]), as an artist who was "good at everything." A manuscript providing biographies of writers and artists circa mid-1840s, Keisetsu gesakusha kô (Treatise on gesaku makers in Kyoto-Osaka: 京攝戯作者考) by Kimura Mokuô (Uyûsanjin), describes Shigeharu as the only Osaka artist of his time earning a living entirely from ukiyo-e print design (all the other artists supported themselves in different professions while making prints on the side), adding that "he was better than the rest." (It also mentions Shigeharu's daughter, Yonejo, as a competent painter popular among foreign collectors.)

Shigeharu designed single-sheet prints (ichimai-e: 一枚絵 including polyptychs), illustrated books (ehon: 絵本), theater signboards (e-kanban: 絵看板), picture-book theater programs (ehon banzuke: 絵本番付), and paintings. He worked with at least twelve different publishers, producing single-sheet print designs almost exclusively in the ôban (大判 approx. 370 x 280 mm) format . He published his first print in 1821, signing as "Nagasaki Kunishige" (長崎國重). The earliest recorded instance of his connection with Kunihiro appeared on a print dated 3/1822 when he signed as "Kunishige, pupil (monjin) of Kunihiro" (國重門人國廣). By the time he was done, Shigeharu's print designs numbered more than 240 (counting polyptychs as single compositions). Shigeharu's productivity of ichimai-e peaked between 1829 and 1831, with no prints currently known from early to mid-1822 until 8/1825. His final year of his activity in Osaka appears to have been 1838, but surviving specimens from that time are rare. He apparently returned to his native Nagasaki in the early 1840s.

Shigeharu produced the print shown on the left in 1/1830, when he was, for a brief three years, the most active print artist in Osaka. This oban portrait depicts Arashi Rikan II (嵐璃寛) as Mashiba Hisatsugu (真柴久次) in Keisei setsugekka (A courtesan play: Sun, moon, and flowers: けいせい雪月花) at the Kado Theater, Osaka.

Although he engaged primarily in the production of actor prints (yakusha-e: 役者絵), an unusual and standout print series by Shigeharu is his "Set of twenty-four paragons of filial piety" (Nijushidô no uchi, 廿四孝ノ内, c. 1829–30). The 24 sheets feature portrayals of Chinese legendary or historical figures whose self-sacrificing devotion to their parents were models of constancy meant to praise Confucian family and societal values. The designs appear to be the only surviving examples on the subject by an Osaka artist and predate the Edo artist Utagawa Kuniyoshi's (歌川國芳) first and far-better known series (c. 1842–43) on the theme. Although not often encountered today, Shigeharu’s Confucian-values set must have been popular in its day, as alternate editions exist with color changes and block wear on some of the surviving impressions.

Shigeharu's signatures

Note: Ryûsai Shigeharu was probably not the same artist as the one signing Kunishige from 1849 and after. He was also probably not the same artist signing as Shigeharu on prints dated circa 1849–51. The signatures below are given in chronological order of first appearance.

Nagasaki Kunishige [長崎國重] (1821)
Nagasaki Shigeharu [長崎重春] (1821)
Baigansai Kunishige [梅丸齋国重] (1821)
Kunishige [國重] (1822)
Takigawa Kunishige [滝川國重] (1825)
Ryûsai Shigeharu [柳窗重春 and 柳齋重春] (1826)
Gyokuryûtei [玉柳亭] (1830)
Gyokuryûtei Shigeharu [玉柳亭重春] (c. 1830-32)
Gokuryûsai Shigeharu [玉柳齋重春]

Pupils of Shigeharu

Shigeharu's pupils included (in order of known years of activity):

Ryûkyôtei Shigenao (柳狂亭重直 act. c. 1828-41 also known as Nobukatsu 信勝)
Shūgansai Shigefusa (秀丸齋重房 act. c. 1829–30)
Shigeyasu (重安 act. c.late 1820s)
Shigetoyo (重豊 act. c. 1829)
Shigeyoshi (重芳 c. late 1830s–early 40s)
Shigehiro (重廣 act. c. 1834)

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