|Hirosada, Kataoka Gado as Hayana Kanpei|
To even the casual observer, there is a significant and unique difference that marks out the work of the Osaka printmakers from those of the metropolis of Edo (Tokyo). There is a style of drawing and characterisation that remained consistent among these two groups of artists who were both unique and skilled draughtsmen, and yet cohered to their own regional style. The physiognomy of the Osaka portrait is mannered to the point of near abstraction, something that is rarely discussed but has its roots in the particular style of the first Osaka theatre portraitists. Despite the constraints and uniformity of this formal style, it never quite contained the perception, compassion and brilliance of the best of these regional printmakers - the most notable being the extraordinary and desperately underrated Hirosada.
What then accounts for the distinctive style of the Osaka School? The influence is undoubtedly the work of the Edo artist Toyokuni I (1769-1825). Toyokuni founded the Utagawa School at the beginning of the nineteenth century which produced the three great Japanese artists of the century: Kuniyoshi, Kunisada and Hiroshige. His later work (of the 1810's) has suffered from the bad connoisseurship of the early twentieth century - the inappropriate use of classical taxonomy to critique Japanese art. This western approach to the art of Japan essentially presupposed that the archaic art of Edo (principally the 18th century) was equivalent to the archaic art of ancient Greece and, following that model, the art that followed (the majority of the nineteenth century) was decadent and of no value. Whilst some value was placed on Toyokuni's early works, his later work was judged hasty and commercial. These days, this approach is mainly discredited by serious historians; this has not however translated to the sale rooms and works from the eighteenth century still command a premium in excess of their true worth.
|Toyokuni I, Nakamura Utaemon IV as The Nursemaid Komori|
|Hokuei, Nakamira Utaemon IV as The Monkey Handler|
As far as Osaka is concerned, we are looking at Toyokuni's later theatrical prints which were 'exported' to the province and which quickly came to influence the early woodblock artists of the 1810's. By the 1820's, artists such as Hokucho and Hokuei had developed a style that owed a great deal to the Utagawa School - the oban format, the triptych of figures against theatrical backgrounds and the schematic drawing of often over-large figures of actors, remarkable for their economy and presence. Within this Edo style though their is an undoubted primitivism - one might say provincialism that informs the drawing style and the conception not only of the design and the composition but also the arrangement of space on the page.
Comparing the Hokuei and the Toyokuni illustrated above, the similarities are immediately clear. They share the oban format, a similar tonality and colour scheme and the same angularity in the drawing of the features of the actor. Not seen is Toyokuni's frequent fondness for black, and his innovations in putting more and more scenery and stage furniture into the backgrounds, especially of triptychs. But the principal difference comes not from artists but from actors: Edo was the home of the aggressive kabuki style, aragato (wild acting) performed by the Danjuro clan. This involved a great deal of heroism, fighting and display. The provincial city of Osaka preferred the wagoto style which was thoughtful, sensuous and self-effacing. The portraits of these wagoto style actors were therefore bound to demand a melancholy and static approach from the printmakers.
|Kunisada, Okubi-e of Ichkawa Danjuro VI|
|Sadamasu, Kataoka Ichizo as Mitsuhide Akechi|
Hirosada’s prints are an exploration of the depth and meaning of human relationships. They are intimate and direct. Other Japanese artists had portrayed the timeless, fragile and unchanging aspects of human life. Hirosada celebrated the separate, unrepeatable, unique, human event. (Keyes, Hirosada, Osaka Printmaker, UAM/CSULB 1984 p18)
|Hirosada, Mimasu Daigoro as the Playwright Namiki Shozo|
|Henry Rousseau, Portrait of the Artist|
|Yoshitaki, The Five Elements|