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“Thing to Wear” to “Thing to Undress:” Representation of Japanese Kimonos in Late Victorian Paintings

by Allie Yamaguchi

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Japanese kimonos were repeatedly represented in the paintings of the late Victorian period. The expression of kimonos was highly varied, and it shifted over time from collectable and decorative “objects” to “things to wear” to “things to undress” through the British encounter with Japanese culture in visual, material, and movable form. By examining some key works by the painters of the late Victorian period, including James Jacques Joseph Tissot (1836–1902), Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828–1882), James Abbot McNeil Whistler (1834–1903), and Philip Wilson Steer (1860–1942), amongst others, this article explores what Japanese kimonos imply and how they were represented in painting and portraiture. This research aims to locate artistic translation and representation of Japanese kimonos within the study of dress history.

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