Dutch Wax? Javanese-Dutch Batik artist visits the Gold Coast in 1930

Reijer Stolk LadiesDutch Wax is a subject that inspires many in the art world and beyond for more than ten years (maybe already twenty years?). With on top of course the English-Nigerian artist Yinka Shonibare, who probably launched  this fascination. Recently the SMBA in Amsterdam opened a ‘çritical’ (?) contemporary art exhibition around Dutch Wax with the title Hollandaise (The critical eluded me somewhat during my visit). And last year The Museum of Modern Art in Arnhem presented a  hommage exhibition around the Vlisco factory with the title Six Yards.

It also has been a subject in the Black is Beautiful, Rubens to Dumas exhbition as I came across the Javanese artist Reijer Stolk during my research in the collection of the Gemeentemuseum of the Hague.

Reijer Johan Antonie Stolk was a batik artist from Indonesian descent. and was commisioned by he Ankersmit factory (later part of Vlisco) to travel, in the thirties, to the Gold Coast. and Nigeria, for ‘Dutch Wax design inspiration‘. In the of 2008 4 etchings were exhibited,

The etchings and the text from the exhibition catalogue.

Reijer Stolk had been born at Ngoegnoet on Java in 1896. His mother was Javanese, his father Dutch. As a young boy he came to the Netherlands where he later received lessons from Samuel Jessurun de Mesquita 1868 –1944 and Chris Lebeau 1878 –1945, also a batik artist, and became friends with Maurits Escher 1898 –1972. His work has much affinity with theirs. During the 1920s he began to design batiks which he signed Reyer Stolk Soegina

Reijer Stolk LadiesThe first etching is a rhythmical composition of graceful African women walking past each other with objects on their head. Reijer Stolk has paid a great deal of attention to the various fabrics worn by the women.

Reijer Stolk mannen haardracht
Reijer Stolk Collection Gemeente Museum Den Haag

The second etching appears to be a stylised study in taut lines of a variety of male hairstyles, jaw forms and faces.

Mannen in bootThe third etching shows the movement, cadence and patterns of seven nude men rowing
in a canoe, which glides diagonally through the image.

Reijer Stolk Boot en peddels collectie Gemeente Museum Den HaagIn the fourth etching  Reijer Stolk focused on the oars and boat edgings which are decorated with abstract forms.

Reijer Stolk had a reason for paying so much attention to the patterns and forms he had seen in Africa, for he was also a batik artist and had been sent by the Ankersmit textile works to Nigeria and the Gold Coast for two months in 1930 to design patterns for the African market.

This commission and the trip proved of decisive influence on his subsequent career as an artist. In the months following his return he turned the beauty of the bodies, colours, patterns and movements he had seen in Africa into masks, etchings, a textile book and drawings.

The etchings, in total there are nine, are kept in a box decorated with batik.                                                 ————————————————

Other etchings from this box :

Reijer Stolk boot

Reijer Stolk Boot laden met stenen 1932

More and footnotes in the exhibition catalogue: Black is beautiful, Rubens to Dumas (2008, sold out)

Reyer Stolk Mensen in de regen

Reijer Stolk Objecten
Reijer Stolk 1896 –1945 Etchings from Gold Coast and Nigeria 1932 Gemeentemuseum The Hague

In my view, the history surrounding “Dutch Wax” is a good example of how ‘things’ are basically everyone’s heritage and (his)story.

Maybe this is part of it’s success?

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