Cartoon Cranes

Aubrey Beardsley and the Japanese Cranes

The choice of “welcoming kimono” was just one of many challenges when staging the 2018 exhibition, Kimono et Encre. The exquisite calligraphic art of Ayuko Miyakawa was the “Encre/Ink” content, so the logical candidate was the quirky kimono Maggie named the “ABC”.

One of her earliest acquisitions, this boy’s Miyamairi first shrine visit kimono immediately brought to mind the cartoons of English illustrator and author, Aubrey Beardsley (1872 – 1898).

These birds looked more like eccentric penguins, their comically rounded shapes huddled against a block of solid yellow. Only the small red dots on some heads identified them as Japanese Cranes.

It had been painted in a style far removed from traditional depictions of elegant-necked cranes. Symbolising longevity, they and are found on countless boys’ garments. Often purchased by the young child’s grandparents, these formal kimono were draped over the baby during the Shinto ceremony.

Beardsley was the first art editor of literary journal “The Yellow Book”, published quarterly in London from 1894 to 1897. He has been credited with the idea of its iconic yellow cover.

A leading figure in the 19th-century aesthetic movement, he was best-known for his bold — and, at times, erotic — black-and-white illustrations. Japanese ukiyo-e and shunga (erotic) woodblock prints are likely to have shaped Beardsley’s art style during his brief professional career.

Strongly influenced by Art Nouveau and Japonisme, the Beardsley era, in turn, inspired many works by Japanese graphic designers and book illustrators. Kimono artists of the time became keen to reflect such innovation.

This Taisho Era (1912-26) kimono will provide a unique talking-point for any collector interested in the development and interface of international art movements in the early 20th century.

At a time of key cross-cultural exchanges between artists, this unconventional interpretation of cranes would have broken new ground. It is likely that the discerning family who commissioned this special, hand-painted kimono were fully aware of the bold statement of modernity that their choice represented.

The Crane kimono is available here

Featured in the Kimono Expo
Aubrey Beardsley, Cranes