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Biography: SHÔKÔSAI Hanbei (松好齋半兵衛)

Shokosai hosoban 1797
A Shôkôsai print from 1797
Arashi Kichisaburô II as Nuregami no Chôgorô




Shokosai signatureShôkôsai Hanbei (松好半兵衛 act. c. 1795–1809) was a pupil of Ryûkôsai Jokei (琉光齋女圭 act. c. 1776-1809), the founder of the Osaka school of actor portraits (yakusha-e: 役者絵) in their mature form. Shôkôsai's biography is unknown but for a few sketchy details. His personal name was Hanbei, and on at least three hosoban, he used the prefix "Kônan" (江南) in his signature, meaning "south of the river," a possible reference to his address near the Yodo River. His identity as a pupil of Ryûkôsai is recorded on a print dated 1798. He was also cited as a pupil in Denki sakusho (1843) by the playwright Nishizawa Ippô (西澤一鳳 1802-1852). One of Shôkôsai's known Osaka addresses was in Shimanouchi, Shimizumachi (near an entertainment district south of the Yodo River).

As was true for many ukiyo-e artists, Shôkôsai composed poems for his own works as well as for prints and paintings designed by others. He was closely associated with the theater as an active member in hiiki renchû (loyal theater fan clubs: 贔屓連中). His devotion to kabuki was cited in the aforementioned Denki sakusho, while one of his literary pseudonyms was Gijokojin, "Theater lover": 戯場好人). His other noms de plume were Naniwa gako ("Artist of Osaka": 浪花畵工) and Eirakujin ("One who likes to compose poems": 詠楽人).

Shôkôsai's style of actor portraiture evolved from the model established by Ryûkôsai in that master's nigao-e (likeness pictures: 似顔絵). Shôkôsai's portraits were also realistic, but occasionally less caustic than Ryûkôsai's. This is evident, for example, in his portrait of Arashi Kichisaburô II as Nuregami no Chôgorô in Futatsu chôchô kuruwa nikki (Diary of two butterflies from the licensed quarters: 双蝶々曲輪日記) from 1/1797 (see image at left). Barely more than twenty single-sheet designs by Shôkôsai have survived.

Shôkôsai's earliest confirmed print appears to be a hosoban yakusha-e from 5/1795, although an unsigned portrait dated 4/1794 has been attributed to him. He may have designed the earliest single-sheet chûban-format prints in Osaka, publishing two such works in 9/1799. Shôkôsai also designed the first color-printed ehon (picture book: 絵本) of actors in Osaka: Ehon futaba no aoi (Seed-leaves of the hollyhock: 絵本二葉葵) comprising two volumes. Another of his admired illustrated books is the Ehon santô yakusha masukagami (Picture book: A brilliant mirror of actors in the three cities: 絵本三都俳優ますかゞみ), published in 1806.

Active in another key area of ukiyo-e production in Osaka, Shôkôsai illustrated at least eight e-iri nehon (kabuki playbooks: 絵入根本) between 1801 and 1809, establishing an Osaka genre that lasted until the 1860s. These were illustrated kabuki playbooks or summary editions, ranging from prose adaptations of plays to relatively accurate compendiums of stage dialogs.

Shôkôsai provided designs for a treasure trove of historically significant information that was published by Shioya Chôbei (塩屋長兵衛 whose seal reads "Shiochô" 塩長) in two sets of illustrated books (ehon: 絵本), two-volumes each. They provide encyclopedic details about Osaka’s kabuki traditions through texts and images. They are titled "Illustrated guide to backstage theater rooms" (Shiba gakuya zue: 戯場図会拾) from 1800–01, and "Sequel to the illustrated guide to backstage theater rooms" (Gakuya zue shûi: 楽屋図会拾遺) from 1802.

Pupils of Shôkôsai

Shôkôsai's legacy includes his critical role in passing on knowledge of printmaking to Hokushû, arguably the most significant master in the next generation of Osaka artists:

Shunkôsai Hokushû (春好齋北洲 act. c. 1802(?)-1832),

Otherwise, Shôkôsai seems to have had few pupils, although four others are known:

Sekkô (Sekkôsai, 雪好齋 act. c. 1812–1814)
Rokô (Rokôsai, 露好齋 act. c. 1810–1813)
Shinkô (眞好 act. c. 1815)
Jukôdô Yoshikuni (壽好堂芳國 act. c. 1813–1832).

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