Undress, by John Lockwood Kipling (1837-1911). Originally pen-and-ink and wash on paper (see James 369), this is an illustration for Chapter IX, "Of Elephants," in Beast and Man in India (1891), facing p. 254. Having explored the role of the elephant god Ganesh in the Hindu pantheon, Kipling turns to the creature itself, and reports:

The docility of the elephant is never more evident than when he is dressed for parade on an occasion of state. It is a long and tiresome business to clothe the creature in the ornaments and housings with which luxuriant Oriental taste loves to bedizen him. You may make a four-post bedstead very splendid in a cinque-cento or a Louis Ouatorze manner; a horse can carry a great load of finery; even men and women, duchesses, actresses, kings and queens, stagger proudly under fine trappings, but the elephant is made for display as a mountain range for sunset effect. Sir Henry Cole, in years gone by, used to contemplate the vast brick walls built by Captain Fowke for the 1862 Exhibition, and say, "That is a surface which invites decoration." The facade of the nude elephant is no less noble and no less urgent in its appeal to the eye. But the great beast, shifting uneasily on his feet, does not always take kindly to his trappings, and is much less steady than a brick wall.

Yet at the worst there is little more difficulty in decking the elephant than in dressing a fidgety child for church. [254-56]

There are some particularly grisly bits in this chapter, for instance about the use of elephants as public executioners, but on the whole Kipling is sure that they are essentially gentle beasts, and often too hard-used, even by the mahoots who are supposed to be so attached to them.

The opening initial letter of the chapter shows it in its exotic Indian context.

Scanned images, and commentary, by Jacqueline Banerjee. You may use the images without prior permission for any scholarly or educational purpose as long as you (1) credit the person who scanned them and (2) link your document to this URL in a web document or cite the Victorian Web in a print one. [Click on the images to enlarge them.]

Related Material


Bryant, Julius, and Susan Weber, eds. John Lockwood Kipling: Arts and Crafts in the Punjab and London. New York: Bard Graduate Centre Gallery; New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2017.

James, Elizabeth. "Kipling and Book Illustration." In Bryant and Weber. 361-399.

Kipling, John Lockwood. Beast and Man in India: A Popular Sketch of Indian Animals in Their Relations with the People. London: Macmillan, 1891. Internet Archive. Contributed by the Royal College of Physicians in Edinburgh. Web. 22 January 2017.

Created 22 January 2017