Still Life and Trade in the Dutch Golden Age by Julie Berger ...

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Reviews STILL LIFE AND TRADE IN THE DUTCH GOLDEN AGE julie berger hochstrasser Yale University Press 2007 d35.00 $40.00 ...

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Reviews STILL LIFE AND TRADE IN THE DUTCH GOLDEN AGE julie berger hochstrasser Yale University Press 2007 d35.00 $40.00 411 pp. 136 illus isbn 978-0-300-10038-9

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global outlook has been part of the scholarship of history for some time, including recent scholarly histories of food as well as popular studies of commodities ranging from salt and cod to coffee and tulips. In Holland, recent studies of the Dutch East India Company (VOC) and the origins of the Dutch colonial expansion in the seventeenth century have raised consciousness of the Dutch in Asia. Now art history effectively joins this important discourse with a major new study that attends as fully to the ‘trade’ in its title as to the traditional study of ‘still life’. Julie Hochstrasser offers one of the first serious investigations about the actual goods depicted on the table in Dutch still-life paintings, which record the early stages of – and the national pride in – an emerging consumer society that remains a hallmark of modernity. Rather than worry about the contemporary terms or categories for the art that we now lump together under the genre category of ‘still life’, such as ‘breakfast piece’ or ‘luxury still-life’ (pronkstilleven), she considers the items themselves and their origins. Opening chapters consider the origins and estimations of these varied commodities: Dutch domestic production, wider European staples (such as Baltic grain, but also lemons and wine), and exotic imports, whether from the Americas (salt, tobacco, sugar) or from the Dutch East India Company (pepper and Chinese porcelains) via the Indian Ocean. In her preface, she makes her social consciousness explicit and underscores the purposes of her book: to de-centre Europe as the sole point of reference, even while studying a major European economic power; and to uncover hidden histories implicated by imperial power, especially slavery (particularly timely in this anniversary year of the elimination of the slave trade from Britain). Holland itself figures initially as a source of some consumer items featured in still-lifes, particularly cheese, herring and beer. Hochstrasser’s careful research also features rich contemporary source material, including accounts of the health-

ful properties of local products advanced by contemporary writers, notably Johan van Beverwyck’s Treasury of Health (1636, Appendix I). For this primary source material alone, art historians can be grateful, because previous interpretations of such items as tobacco or alcohol have often taken the view that such substances were abused in a pattern of ‘social deviance’, whereas their central role in Dutch still-lifes also suggests a more benign utility. Her work makes clear the link between porcelains and oranges (still called ‘Chinese apples’ in modern Dutch) as well as the inextricable connection between slavery and sugar production or between colonial atrocities and spice imports. Throughout her historical analysis of the emerging Dutch empire, Hochstrasser also makes abundant use of visual primary sources, contemporary illustrations in travel books or histories (e.g. Lodewyckszoon, 1596; Nieuhof, 1670, 1682). In this respect, her book dovetails nicely with the work of social historians. After laying out the history of commodities and tracking their representations in Dutch paintings, Hochstrasser moves ambitiously to her evaluation of this visual culture in a second section, ambitious titled ‘The language of commodities’. Here perhaps her reach exceeds her grasp, but the ambition of the book consists of her desire to make the objects speak their cultural meaning. Ambivalence concerning the foreign emerges clearly from her chosen passages, notably Beverwyck on sugar and spices. On the one hand, the resourceful Netherlands has transcended her geographical

Floris van Schooten,Breakfast with Butter and Domestic Fruits, formerly collection Dr H Nordlund, Gothenburg, Sweden. From Still Life and Trade in the Dutch Golden Age byJulie Berger Hochstrasser.

limitations, yet on the other these food treasures offer temptations and indulgences, whereas the nation could readily remain self-sufficient. Luxury ruined the Roman Empire, and the Dutch should be mindful of the lessons of history. Hochstrasser also puts great stock in the significance of newspaper reports about shipments as indicators of the dangers faced from storms and piracy (especially by the English). Most of the objects in these reports provide the pronk of luxury still-lifes, and Hochstrasser notes both the pride of attaining these treasures as well as the suppressed hidden social costs that she takes pains to illuminate. The reader is left to wonder, however, whether Dutch national pride in all this accumulation is misplaced, whether Marx’s focused critique of Holland as the epitome of early capitalism should be a relevant outlook, either for the seventeenth century or today. For wider cultural values of the day, the interested reader should consult the new book by Anne Goldgar (University of Amsterdam Press, 2007) about the Dutch phenomenon mythologised as ‘Tulipmania’, which was also the spur to a crisis of confidence in old social and economic systems. In the end, Hochstrasser seems more interested in her conclusions to raise Marxist as well as post-colonial critiques of the Dutch colonial commerce. While these cultural studies critiques surely

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Reviews prompted these fascinating material(ist) discoveries on her part, they also lead to a departure from disinterested historical analysis and a heavy overlay of current postmodern theorising in place of the contemporary Dutch views that prompted the proliferation of these very still-life paintings. In the final analysis, while our understanding of this genre and its implied values is greatly enhanced and rendered far more complex, the original cultural purposes of such pictures ultimately become more obscure. larry silver University of Pennsylvania

JAPONISME: THE JAPANESE INFLUENCE ON WESTERN ART SINCE 1858 siegfried wichmann Thames & Hudson 2007 d29.95 $49.95 (P) 423 pp. 243 col/862 mono illus isbn 0-500-28163-7

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n the year 1888, the renowned doyen of artistic taste and pioneer in the field of Japonisme, Edmond de Goncourt, complained he was incapable of writing a book on Japanese art that would do justice to the subject. After 200 years of limited trade and diplomatic links, the European rediscovery of Japan in the mid-nineteenth century was a revelation, and the task of assessing the forceful enthusiasm of response that this encounter generated demands great breadth of vision. The dissemination of Japanese artworks had a decisive impact on the development of modern art, with Japanese prints in particular allowing artists such as Gauguin and Toulouse Lautrec to abandon the linear perspective and tonal modelling demanded by outmoded academic painting in favour of using expressive forms, vibrant colour, and dynamic points of view. This moment of confrontation between Eastern and Western cultures, and between established and emergent approaches to problems of form, has understandably generated a large and wide ranging variety of scholarship. In a thoroughly researched area, Siegfried Wichmann’s Japonisme is one of the most comprehensive and accessible volumes available on this topic. Japonisme, loosely defined as the influence of Japanese art on Western artists, is not a style, a period, or a movement, making it a difficult subject

to define.Wichmann’s volume includes art works produced in Asia, America and Europe over a large historical time frame, with Monet, Beardsley, and Pollock being just a few of the diverse artists discussed. Wichmann’s awareness of the varied nature of the topic not only dictates the organisation of his text but is integral to its success. The volume opens with a concise historical survey of the entry of Japanese art into Europe. The historical and commercial detail given here establishes a rich sense of context often lacking in accounts that discuss Japonisme strictly in terms of stylistic problems, and explains the role of visionary dealers such as Samuel Bing, whose gallery was frequented by the Van Gogh brothers, in shaping artistic taste. Rather than continuing with this narrative history of Japonsime, however, Wichmann instead divides the book into chapters detailing specific techniques and themes, including calligraphy, metalwork and interior design, advancing on discussions of Japonisme that give priority to the woodcut print. The encyclopaedic range of media discussed not only gives a sense of the pervasive nature of Japanese influence, but is also in itself influenced by Japanese artistic concepts, where boundaries between ‘fine’ and ‘applied’ arts are muted. This thematic organisation is not without difficulties. Vincent Van Gogh’s oeuvre, for example, is divided, with paintings and ink drawings being discussed in separate sections of the book. The advantages of the thematic framework do, however, outweigh any navigational problems. It is innovative in allowing modern Western artworks and their premodern Japanese prototypes to be easily compared, both visually and conceptually. Western artists approached Japan with an omnivorous curiosity, and the diversity of techniques examined allows Wichmann to demonstrate how Japanese influence diffused across media, as in the case of Monet’s La Japonaise, which was a painted response to textile designs. The nature of Japonisme requires the author to offer incisive comparative analysis of Japanese and Western artefacts, and Wichmann’s title sets the standard for the use of juxtaposition as a means of constructing visual argument. The generous number of sumptuous illustrations make this book a powerful combination of insightful scholarly text and lavish visual images that is both engaging and accessible.

The high proportion of Japanese (and in some instances Chinese) artworks reproduced demonstrates a sensitivity to Japanese art unusual in works on Japonisme, which are necessarily written from the perspective of Western art history. At times,Wichmann’s discussion of Japanese art is overly dependent on assumption and convention. There is some irony in his discussion of the impact of Hokusai’s Great Wave on European artists without acknowledgement that Hokusai’s image was itself influenced by Netherlandish seascapes. For these reasons, the reproductions and commentaries on Japanese production are of limited interest to scholars of Japanese art, since it was never Wichmann’s intention to offer insights on this subject. Scholars and students of Western modernism will, however, find that this volume is unique in providing a sufficient knowledge of Japanese models to enable improved understanding of the assimilation of Japanese ideas in the Western art world. Wichmann argues that contact with Japan transformed Western art, and that this influence was not a quickly passing novelty, but endured into the late twentieth century. Amongst the later works discussed by Wichmann are Mark Tobey’s paintings of the 1970s, which share the characteristic dynamism and autonomy of gesture of Eastern calligraphy. Wichmann’s book was first published in 1980 but, despite having been reissued several times, the text remains largely faithful to the original. The current edition is the second paperback version to be published, and develops little from the previous paperback issue of 1999. The lack of updating poses the question of whether Wichmann’s work could be extended. Increasing awareness of Japanese art in the West, particularly in connection with mass cultural forms such as cinema and animation, certainly suggests that ‘Japonisme’ continues to be a source of curiosity. This is not to say that Wichmann’s text is outdated, and his insights undeniably remain valuable. A preliminary section providing an historiographic analysis of Japonisme as a trend in Western taste and intellectual life is an excellent inclusion that continues to be highly useful for scholars and students. The selection, presentation, and range of examples reproduced make this book equally appealing to a non-specialist audience. Wichmann’s work continues to

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