The Fin de Siècle Kimono

The Fin de Siècle obsession for Japanese art and textiles fueled the Impressionist, Post-Impressionist painters and the Arts and Crafts Movement.  The kimono is featured in many paintings from this time period. Although demure as a full length gown, the kimono exudes sensuality and decadence. The kimono in luxurious silk with an opening down the front secured only by a belt or traditional obi suggests a state of déshabillé. I would even say that the kimono became a symbol of freedom for the modern woman because it could be worn without a corset.

This painting by the Belgian, Gustave Léonard de Jonghe (1829-1893), is an early example of Japonisme. Although the model is wearing a kimono and obi, the fullness of the skirt indicates she is wearing a crinoline under it. She does not appear to be wearing a corset, however. The fabric apears to be a very fine silk kimono with embroidery, woven designs and hand painted details.

The Japanese Fan or L'admiratrice du Japon. Gustave de Jonghe , 1865.

The Japanese Fan or L’admiratrice du Japon. Gustave de Jonghe , 1865.

The American Impressionist, William Merrit Chase (1849-1916), painted many portraits of women wearing kimonos. In the paintings, the kimono appears to be worn as a tea dress. The informal poses show the women are relaxing at home, reading books or casually holding Japanese prints.


The Girl with a Book. William Merrit Chase, 1902.


Japonisme. William Merrit Chase, 1898.


The Japanese Book. William Merrit Chase, 1900.

These painting by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (1864 1901), a post-impressionist, shows Lili Grenier in a kimono. Both appear to painted at the same time. Lili Grenier was an actress and a model, who with her husband René Grenier, lived with Toulouse-Lautrec in the 1880’s. The kimono she is wearing apears to be a kasuri woven in silk or wool and is possibly lined in a red silk habutai.


Lili Grenier in a kimono. Henri de Tououse-Lautrec, 1888.


Lili Grenier. Henri de Tououse-Lautrec, 1888.

This is another painting featuring a kimono and a Japanese screen by Robert Lewis Reid (1862-1929). This painting depicts traditional Japanese symbols, such as a crane on the screen and a kimono. The opulence of the fabric is detailed in the deep folds of the silk fabric. It almost looks like velvet.


Blue and Yellow. Robert Lewis Reid , 1910.

Henrietta Emma Ratcliffe Rae (1859–1928) was an English painter. A dragon is featured behind the model. The model is wearing a blue kimono and is holding a fan.


Azaleas. Henrietta Emma Ratcliffe Rae, 1895.

One of my favorite Impressionist artists is the American artist, Mary Cassatt (1844–1926). Though her subjects do not include kimonos, her etchings and paintings are influenced by the simple stye of Japanese woodcuts.

Maternal Caress. Mary Cassatt, 1891.

Maternal Caress. Mary Cassatt, 1891.


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