MAN’S BANYAN OF PAINTED-AND-DYED COTTON
Indian Export for the European Market, first half of the 18th century
Eastern in origin and informal
in nature, the banyan was enthusiastically adopted
by gentlemen of leisure in the West in the seventeenth
and eighteenth centuries. Worn in the privacy of
the home over the waistcoat and breeches, the banyan,
or morning gown, was nevertheless a fashionable garment
and its exotic, négligé qualities often figure prominently
in contemporary portraits of the well-to-do, intellectuals
and artists. Although many European-made silk banyans
survive in museum collections, Indian cotton examples
are especially rare.
Both the comfortable, kimono-like construction and colorful exuberance of this splendid banyan readily illustrate its appeal. Particularly striking is the painted-to-form pattern that accommodates the directional elements of the main motifs that reverse at the shoulder. On the body of the banyan, made from a continuous piece of fabric, the flowering vases on columns are right side up on front and back. Specially designed borders for the center opening, sleeve edges and hem complete the sophisticated composition.
This type of painted-to-shape garment might have been made up in India, or exported to Europe essentially as a kit and subsequently stitched together. The superiority of Indian cottons to their European imitations as well as their prohibition in England and France until the second half of the eighteenth century only made these goods more desirable. It may well be that the wearer of this banyan proudly flaunted his fashionable contraband.