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East meets West – a beautiful silk kimono on display

27 July 2011 by Lisa

Silk kimono from the early 20th century

This beautiful silk kimono is featured in our ‘Art in Revolution: Liverpool 1911′ exhibition, because one of the paintings on show depicts a lady called Dorothy Reilly wearing it. Dorothy Reilly was the wife of Charles Reilly, who held the Roscoe Chair of Architecture at Liverpool’s University from 1904. Albert Lipczinski completed the painting during 1911-1913 so we can assume that the kimono is also from around the same time.

You can’t quite appreciate how amazing the detail is on it from these images but the glory is in the embroidery along the back, which includes birds, trees and even a turtle!

Even today there is a trend among high fashion labels such as Issa for kimono-style pieces, as well as on the high street. Nicole Richie also has many long kimono tops and dresses in her celeb-friendly ‘Winter Kate’ collection.
 
So we know that this style of clothing was popular as ‘leisure wear’ in Britain around the beginning of the 20th century. But why? Our Curator of British Art, Laura McCulloch told me; 

‘Japan opened up to the West in 1854 after 200 years of self imposed isolation from the rest of the world. As a result, Japanese items including prints, sculptures, lacquer ware and kimonos flooded onto the market in Europe, mainly through shops such as Liberty’s in London. As now, the craze for Japanese things was in full swing by the early 1900s.

Also, the kimono has long sleeves which means that it was made to be worn by an unmarried woman as married women would wear clothes with shorter sleeves.’

We know that the kimono was passed down within the Reilly family and was occasionally worn by other women in the family. I often get beautiful hand-me-downs from my Gran, such as this lovely beaded evening bag, so I can definitely relate to this! It’s such a treat to receive a beautiful and timeless piece of clothing or accessory from another generation that you can treasure.

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