Born March 3, 1844 in Kyoto, Kōno Bairei was one of the leading practitioners of ukiyo-e devoted to pictures of birds and flowers (kacho-ga) in the Meiji period. Unlike the majority of ukiyo-e artists, he was originally trained as a classical Japanese painter. As one of the foremost artists of his day, Bairei had about 60 apprentices in his studio named Ryōuin-juku (“the atelier of the transcending cloud”), including artists such as Kikuchi Hōbun, Kawai Gyokudō, Uemura Shoen, Takeuchi Seihō, and Tsuji Kakō (1871-1931).
Though at first woodblock prints were only an afterthought, Bairei eventually designed woodblocks for illustrated books and produced a number of series of prints, such as Bairei hyakuchō gafu (“Bairei’s Album of 100 Birds”), Bairei kachō gafu (“Bairei’s Album Flowers and Birds”) which depicted birds and flowers in the four seasons, and Bairei Gakan (“Mirror of Bairei Paintings”) which depicts animals, birds, insects, flowers, landscapes, Mt. Fuji and more.
Like many of his fellow Meiji period artists, Bairei incorporates some aspects of Western art in his work, yet retains a fidelity to the spirit of the woodblock medium. In 1893, Bairei’s critical and commercial success was honored with his appointment to the Art Committee of the Imperial Household.