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Kono Bairei Biography

Born March 3, 1844 in Kyoto, and originally named Yasuda Bairei, Kōno Bairei was one of the leading practitioners of the ukiyo-e school devoted to pictures of birds and flowers (kacho-ga) in the Meiji period.  Unlike the majority of ukiyo-e artists, he was trained as a classical Japanese painter.  As a child, Bairei studied with Nakajima Raishō (1796-1871), a Maruyama school artist, and in his late twenties, with Shiokawa Bunrin (1808-1877) of the Shijō school.

In 1873, he was invited to show his work at the second Kyoto Exposition and he would go on to show at other Expositions.  Through these Expositions Bairei attracted the attention of the abbot of Higashi Honganji, Ōtani Kōshō, who patronized Bairei and took him along on journeys to Kyushu in 1877 and the Kantō in 1885.

Along with Kubota Beisen (1852-1906), Mochizuki Gyokusen (1834-1913) and a few others, he co-founded the Kyoto Prefectural Painting School in 1878. The Kyoto University of Arts which operates today has its origins in this school. Bairei headed the Northern School section for a brief time, before a dispute with another artist and teacher Suzuki Hyakunen (1825-1891) led to both men leaving. He would return again in 1888, and leave once again in 1890 amid controversy over changes he proposed.

 

In 1886, along with Kubota Beisen, he founded the Kyoto Young Painters Study Group, aimed at helping train and promote young painters with a focus on talent rather than lineage. The group was successful for a brief time, but controversy once again erupted and the group was dissolved and Bairei left Kyoto for Nagoya for much of the 1880s.

Returning to Kyoto, Bairei collaborated with Beisen again, founding the Kyoto Art Association, launching one of the city's first arts journals, and establishing the first major competitive painting exhibition in the city, the "Exhibition of New and Old Art," in 1895.
 

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 Kikuchi Hōbun, Kawai Gyokudō, Uemura Shoen, Takeuchi Seihō (1864-1942) (Bairei's most famous student) and the recently rediscovered Tsuji Kakō (1871-1931).  He is said to have been a stern instructor and quite harsh at times.

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) whichdepicted 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.  His kacho-ga as having "a faint touch of Western realism."

In February of the twenty-fourth year of Meiji (1891 A. D.) Bairei suddenly announced his retirement from the art world, and the next year he sent Landscape in Autumn to the World Fair held in Chicago. Later Bairei traveled with Bishop Kosho of Higashi-hongan-ji Temple, Kyoto, on the latter's preaching tour.  In 1893 Bairei became a member of the Art Committee of the Imperial Household.  In the twenty-seventh year of Meiji (1894) he was commissioned to paint murals in Higashi-hongan-ji Temple, Tokyo, and died the next year upon completion of this work.

 


     


  
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