Exhibition on the Dutch in Japan and Dutchmen netsuke in SieboldHuis until 2 June 2013

Dutchman-netsuke-in-UhlenbeFrom roughly early 17th century to circa mid-19th century Holland was the only western nation that was permitted trade with Japan and the Dutch resided on a small fan-shaped island named Deshima, in the bay of Nagasaki, in the very south of Japan. There they waited on ships to come from Batavia (present-day Jakarta) with new merchandise for the Japanese and at the same time they exported goods from Japan to Europe. Every year (and once every four years after 1790), the Dutch were obliged to visit the Shogun in Edo (present-day Tokyo), which required them to travel the long distance from Nagasaki to Edo over land and over sea.
The presence of the Dutch inspired Japanese artists and resulted in many Japanese art works depicting these exotic foreigners and their strange habits and these works are the subject of the exhibition The Dutch at the SieboldHuis.

The Coen Hille collection of Dutchmen netsuke forms the core of this exhibition and the collection is the result of Hille’s long-held interest in the VOC and Dutch-Japanese trading relations.
The netsuke, small miniature carvings in ivory, stag antler or wood, show different types of Dutchmen. Some hold a crane or cockerel and others hold a fan or music instrument. Often the Dutch are depicted as stiff standing men with long curly hair and wearing long coats with big buttons. In addition to Hille’s collection of netsuke, The Dutch presents prints and paintings from a variety of public Dutch collections, such as the Maritime Museum Amsterdam, the Maritime Museum Rotterdam and the Netherlands Economic Historical Archives. In these works we see images of Dutch ships, Dutchmen eating and drinking, exotic animals like camels and elephants that were presented as gifts to the Shogun. Also the buildings and streets of Deshima were a favorite subject.

These paintings of Deshima are a true pleasure to look at, as they offer a wealth of details, enabling the viewer to look into the houses of the Dutch. In a long horizontal painting near the rear wall of the exhibition space (probably a fragment of a longer hand scroll painting), the small island looks almost like a zoo. The painter has depicted a great number and variety of animals throughout the work, dogs, chicken, exotic birds and more. Two Javanese servants are shown playing a kind of battledore and shuttlecock.
The exhibition also provides a nice opportunity to see original works by Kawahara Keiga (1786-after 1859) and his circle. The painter Kawahara Keiga worked for the Dutch and recorded in his paintings Japan’s flora and fauna, landscapes and scenes of Japanese daily life, and the activities of the Dutch on Deshima.
The period of the 1860s when Japan had opened its borders for trade with other countries than Holland and China is covered in the exhibition as well, through so-called Yokohama prints. These woodblock prints portray the various nationalities living in this big harbor city, including the Dutch.

The exhibition is accompanied by a nicely produced 96-page-catalogue, written by Chris Uhlenbeck and Taetske Kramer. This catalogue is solely dedicated to the Coen Hille collection of netsuke. This means that some of the interesting prints and paintings in the exhibition are not included. The publication includes an introduction on netsuke, their use, materials and subject matter and in particular the subject of the Dutch and foreigners in netsuke. The catalogue section has short descriptions of each netsuke. In total 52 netsuke are listed with full color photos of their front and back and where applicable its signature. The catalogue is attractively priced at 14,95 euro.

The exhibition is on view until 2 June 2013. For more information check out the website of the SieboldHuis.

Chris Uhlenbeck & Teatske Kramer, Netsuke. Dutchmen in miniature, Leiden: Japan Museum SieboldHuis, 2013. 96 pages. ISBN 9789081287463.