Kono Bairei (1844-1895)

Bairei (1844-1895) was one of the leading practitioners of the ukiyo-e school devoted to pictures of birds and flowers (kacho-ga) in the Meiji period.

He was born and lived in Kyoto, the old Imperial capital of Japan, and was originally named Yasuda Bairei. Unlike many other ukiyo-e artists, he was trained as a classical Japanese painter, studying with a number of masters of various classical painting styles, and apparently did woodblock prints as more of a sideline.

As a child Bairei studied with the Maruyama-school painter Nakajima Raisho, and in his late twenties with the Shijo-school painter Shiokawa Bunrin. He also studied with Nanga-school painters.

A leader in Kyoto art circles, he was devoted to teaching, and was instrumental in the founding of the Kyoto Prefectural School of Painting. After the school was underway, he opened a studio and took in students, and was important as a teacher of some gifted pupils.

He produced a number of series of prints and illustrated books, mostly on the subject of kachoga, of which probably the best, and certainly the most well-known, is 'Bairei kacho gafu' ('Bairei's Album of Flowers and Birds'), first published in Meiji 16 (1883). The designs are representations of pairs of birds and flowers in the four seasons. They often found bound into volumes; either as four separate volumes, or two volumes for spring/summer and autumn/winter. The publisher was Okura Magobei, and there were four different engravers. There was also a second, posthumous edition published in 1899.

Another series, "One Hundred Flowering Plants" was published poshumously, in 1901.

His work, like that of his contemporary Yoshitoshi, was clearly influence by Western realism, while at the same time remaining fully rooted in the indigenous Japanese artistic tradition.

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