Before the kimomo, there was the kosode. Kimono, a familiar Japanese word meaning "thing-to- wear" came into use during the late 19th century. Its function was to distinguish between Japanese dress and the Western-style dress that Europeans brought with them as they flooded into a country previously closed to outside influences. In practical terms, the most noticeable difference was the size of the sleeve opening or armhole of the garment, and kosode translates .as "small sleeve."
This is by way of explaining why I have placed two kosodes from the collection of the Metropolitan Museum next to paintings by the Franchman Pierre Bonnard. As a participant in the group of young artists who called themselves Les Nabis (the prophets) in the 1890s, Bonnard was nicknamed le nabi tres japonard for his wholehearted admiration of Japanese art. Bonnard executed Woman in a Checked Dress (at left) and three other panels (now in the collection of the Musee d'Orsay), first by painting on silk fabric and then gluing it to canvas. The French call this technique maroufle.
In fact, the exuberant juxtapositions of patterns and lines, rendered flatly, that Bonnard and others were introduced to through the medium of Japanese woodblock prints, were images of courtesans wearing kosodes mostly, not kimonos. It was a major exhibition at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in 1890 that introduced le tout Paris to those ukiyo-e prints. From courtesan to bourgeois, the translation was dazzling. The Game of Croquet (below) was set at the Boonard family home in Iseres, and some of the players have been identified as (from left to right) the artist's father, his sister Andree, and her husband Claude Terrasse, a composer.
About his early works, Bonnard later said, "We were trying to go farther than the Impressionists and their naturalist impressions of color. After all, art is not Nature!" But this could give an incomplete impression of Bonnard's intentions. "I am of no school, I am only seeking to do something personal.".
1. Silk kosde with design of gingko leaves, waves, and butterflies, Edo Period (1603-1868), Metropolitan Museum of Art, NYC.
2. Pierre Bonnard (1867-1947) - Woman in a checked dress, 1891, Musee d'Orsay, Paros.
3. Pierre Bonnard - A Game of Croquet, 1892, Musee d'Orsay, Paris.
4. Silk kosode with design of plum blossoms and clouds, Edo Period, Metorlpolitan Museum of Art, NYC.
Read more about the Kosode and other interesting things at Society for Creative Anachronism.