From Balinese woodcarvings to Batavian silverware, from Indonesian krisses to Chinese porcelain, and from betel boxes to Indo-European paintings: the Gemeentemuseum Den Haag is set to unveil a vast range of objects that bring the enthralling world of the Orient vividly to life. Its new Asian Art and Dutch Taste exhibition uses the private collection of Jan Veenendaal plus some additional items from the Gemeentemuseum’s own holdings to illustrate the interaction between East and West over the last four hundred years. The show reveals how the marriage of styles and cultures produced a multitude of unique and extraordinary objects.
From the seventeenth century on, a host of Dutch citizens lived in the Far East on a permanent or temporary basis. They all had one thing in common: they went there first and foremost in search of wealth and opportunities that were beyond their grasp in Europe. Countless Dutchmen and foreigners sought their fortunes in Asia in the service of the Dutch East India Company (established in 1602). Their main motivation was trade with and within Asia, but the encounter with previously unknown cultures had an impact not only on Dutch society, but equally on Asian communities. The effects of this culture shock on the material culture of both East and West should never be underestimated. This exhibition shows why.
Asian Art and Dutch Taste presents two different categories of objects. The first consists of artefacts produced in the Indies specifically for the Dutch and, more generally, European market. Each of these things originated in a local oriental tradition but has been modified to appeal to Western tastes. The second consists of domestic and ornamental items produced for Western, Eurasian and Asian households in Asia itself. Here the process is reversed: it is Western traditions that have been adapted to suit oriental tastes.
Jan Veenendaal’s collection includes magnificent examples of work in many different fields. The exhibition is in no way intended to provide a comprehensive overview. The aim is rather to offer a kaleidoscopic impression and enable visitors to immerse themselves in the rich cultural history of the Dutch in Asia. Each and every one of the objects on display has a story to tell. The finely decorated betel boxes speak of the local habit of betel-chewing. The paintings of Jan Daniël Beijnon (1830-1877) show the Java of yesteryear. And the floral ornamentation on both Batavian silverware and carved ebony and kaliatur cabinets reveals the Dutch love of flowers in the seventeenth and early eighteenth century.