Bairei Kono was born and worked in Kyoto, where he began his career as a painter. In his youth, he studied Maruyama-style painting under Nakajima Raisho, before shifting to the Shijo-school and the tutelage of Shiokawa Bunrin in his twenties. He also studied with several Nanga-school artists throughout his early career. Bairei was a well-known figure in the Kyoto art scene and played a critical role in the founding of the Kyoto Prefectural School of Painting. In 1881, he opened his own studio and began to take on students.
Bairei is best recognized for his illustrated books and kacho-e, or bird-and-flower prints. In 1883, he released his most popular work, Bairei kacho gafu (“Bairei’s Album of Flowers and Birds). This album considers pairs of birds and flowers throughout the four seasons. Like many of his fellow Meiji period artists, Bairei utilizes some aspects of Western art in his work, yet retains a fidelity to the spirit of a more traditional Japan. In 1893, Bairei’s critical and commercial success was honored with his appointment to the Art Committee of the Imperial Household.