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In Winter, Silk Linings: The Kimono in Print


Kimono is the national costume of Japan; brocade picture (nishiki-e) is the term used to describe the multicolor woodblock prints that became technically feasible in the mid-1700s. The robes we now call kimono evolved through waves of fashion and textile advances, and revealed personal aspects of the wearer discernable by the garment-savvy Japanese public.

This exhibition will focus on the garments seen in prints produced between the 18th and 20th centuries. Since woodblock print-making was primarily a commercial conduit for popular culture, the clothing seen in the pictures could serve as a guide to current fashion, satisfying curiosity about the latest trends and spreading images packed with information about taste, occasion and social position that often required no text to convey.

Links between kimono design and print production appear at many points of their development. Artists have designed work for both industries which, moreover, both relied on the skills of craftsmen in highly specialized areas to produce collaborative works of exquisite complexity and sophistication. Methods for creating decorative effects and reliance on an enthusiastic marketplace also connect the two enterprises. The exhibition will offer a glimpse into a history of technical innovations, iconographic insights and the hands of numerous masters, not the least of who are the wearers themselves who display their utter fluency in the language of kimono.

Through the prints, viewers will learn a visual vocabulary composed of sleeve length, neck offset, overlap height, pattern, texture and color. The rules governing their selection form a sort of grammar whose proper usage indicates identity, marital status, social position, formality of occasion and personal taste. Motifs patterning the garments speak of the season of the year; the presence of family crests announces the identity of the wearer; sobriety of tone at times recalls government-imposed restraints on conspicuous displays of wealth.

The iconic figures of beauties and actors portrayed in many of the prints added celebrity appeal to settings that were recognizable to audiences of the time, and their clothing drew people's interest. But numerous prints depict ordinary people made noteworthy by their participation in the cultural shift that characterized pre-modern Japan. By turning our attention to the innuendos of apparel, we can begin to make distinctions in styles, in social settings and in the changing structure of Japanese society. The kimono has always been prized as a garment of dramatic beauty; its rich significance in a complex social setting demonstrates its function as a highly encoded work of art.

Curated by Lynn Katsumoto

Exhibition Title

In Winter, Silk Linings: The Kimono in Print



Curated by

Lynn Katsumoto

Organized by

Portland Art Museum

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