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The Kimono in Print:
300 Years of Japanese Design

Exhibition Rescheduled: February 6 – May 2, 2021

Keisai Eisen (1790–1848), Modern Figures on a Snowy Day, early to mid-1820s, color woodblock print with graduated colors (bokashi) and blind-printing (karazuri)
Keisai Eisen (1790–1848), Modern Figures on a Snowy Day, early to mid-1820s, from the series The Four Seasons, Publisher: Sanoya Kihei, color woodblock print with graduated colors (bokashi) and blind-printing (karazuri), John Chandler Bancroft Collection, 1901.146

The Kimono in Print: 300 Years of Japanese Design is the first show devoted to examining the kimono as a major source of inspiration and experimentation in Japanese print culture, from the Edo period (1603–1868) to the Meiji period (1868–1912). This dialogue between print and kimono design is illustrated by approximately 70 Japanese prints, as well as a selection of illustrated woodblock printed books and paintings, primarily drawn from the Museum’s 3,000 Japanese ukiyo-e woodblock prints from John Chandler Bancroft (1835–1901) gifted in 1901. Central to The Kimono in Print is a one-of-a-kind contemporary wedding kimono by Chiso, the important 450-year old, Kyoto-based kimono house. The Worcester Wedding Kimono is the first ever kimono commissioned as an artwork for an art museum. Celebrating the 120th-anniversary of WAM’s transformative acquisition of the Bancroft collection, the contemporary wedding kimono reflects the Museum’s vision for Japanese art in the 21st century.

Print artists from 17th to 20th -century Japan documented ever-evolving trends in fashion, popularized certain styles of dress, and even designed kimonos. The works begin with early prints from the late 17th century, when a more complex and sophisticated attitude towards clothing first appeared, as seen in the lavish prints of the floating world’s celebrity kabuki actors and courtesans. Modern design books and prints from the early 20th century, inspired by or made for kimono, demonstrate how the boundaries between print and textile fashion and design became more fluid.

The commission of a kimono as an artwork, rather than for a specific client or occasion, gave Chiso and its designer significant creative space to give form to their outlook regarding the present and future art of the kimono. Inspired by the New England foliage and Worcester’s famed seven hills, Chiso’s Senior Designer Mr. Imai Atsuhiro incorporated the iconic maple leaf throughout the kimono design, as well as seven textile techniques, ranging from newly developed to endangered ones. Documentary photographs of the process, as well as a video demonstrating many of Chiso’s signature techniques, are included in the exhibition. The Worcester Wedding Kimono reveals in stunning detail Chiso’s continuing commitment and aspiration to Japanese beauty and steadfast dedication to innovation, design, and creativity—in the present and for the future.

The exhibition is accompanied by a catalog edited by guest curator Vivian Li, with contributions by Nagasaki Iwao, Ellis Tinios, Matsuba Ryōko, Fujita Kayoko, and Stephanie Su. Published by Hotei Publishing, in association with the Worcester Art Museum, the catalog is available for purchase for $49. To purchase, please call 508-793-4354.

This exhibition is generously supported by the E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Foundation. Early research for this project was made possible by the Japan Foundation and the Institute of Museum and Library Services.

Institute of Museum and Library Services logoJapan Foundation logo

Selected Images

Kikugawa Eizan (1787–1867), The Courtesan Yoyoyama of the Matsubaya with Her Two Young Female Attendants Standing Under Branches of Cherry Blossoms, ca. 1830, color woodblock print with blind-printing (karazuri) and graduated colors (bokashi)Kikugawa Eizan (1787–1867), The Courtesan Yoyoyama of the Matsubaya with Her Two Young Female Attendants Standing Under Branches of Cherry Blossoms, ca. 1830, Publisher: Sanoya Kihei, color woodblock print with blind-printing (karazuri) and graduated colors (bokashi), John Chandler Bancroft Collection, 1901.59.2650
Itō Shinsui (1898–1972), Woman with Marumage Hairstyle, 1924, color woodblock print on mica (kirazuri) groundItō Shinsui (1898–1972), Woman with Marumage Hairstyle, 1924, Publisher: Watanabe Shōzaburō, color woodblock print on mica (kirazuri) ground, Gift of Edward Kenway, 1960.7
Okumura Masanobu (1686–1764), A Courtesan as Hi Chōbō, ca. 1710, woodblock-printed album sheet with black-line printing (sumizuri)Okumura Masanobu (1686–1764), A Courtesan as Hi Chōbō, ca. 1710, Publisher: Igaya Kan’emon, woodblock-printed album sheet with black-line printing (sumizuri), John Chandler Bancroft Collection, 1901.59.2214
Suzuki Harunobu (1725–70), Youth (wakashu) Unrolling a Hanging Scroll, 1765–70, color woodblock print in red and green (benizuri-e)Suzuki Harunobu (1725–70), Youth (wakashu) Unrolling a Hanging Scroll, 1765–70, Publisher: Iwatoya Kenpachi, color woodblock print in red and green (benizuri-e), John Chandler Bancroft Collection, 1901.289