The son of a bookseller and publisher in Uraga, Kiyonaga was born Shinsuke Sekiguchi in 1752. He moved to Edo in 1765 and began his art education in both printmaking and painting under the direction of Kiyomasu. Following the death of his master, Kiyonaga was adopted as the heir to the Torii family. He was a major printmaker in late 18th century Edo, influenced by the works of Koryusai, Shigenaga and Harunobu. From 1781 to 1788, Kiyonaga dominated ukiyo-e with his prints of bijin (beautiful women) and stylish scenes of Edo life. His work had great influence on other ukiyo-e artists and he is recognized for his intelligent use of color and the maturity of his nishiki-e (brocade prints) and bijin-ga (pictures of beautiful women). In 1787, Kiyonaga arranged for the Torii school to design kabuki signboards. This arrangement would eventually lead to the school’s virtual monopoly over the industry. Despite his immense popularity, Kiyonaga turned away from print design in 1790 to focus on painting.
No great artist ever sees things as they really are. If he did, he would cease to be an artist. - Oscar Wilde