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Gerrit Jan Schouten (1815 - 1878)

Lot 10: A Dutch Colonial polychrome decorated papier mache diorama of a slave dance


October 6, 2015
Amsterdam, Netherlands

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A Dutch Colonial polychrome decorated papier mache diorama of a slave dance By Gerrit Schouten, Paramaribo, 1811 The diorama set in a glazed case with giltwood frame, and signature panel lower left inscribed Door G Schouten Fecit 1811/ G Schouten Fecit 1811 60.5 cm. x 39.5 cm. x 11.5 cm.


60.5 cm. x 39.5 cm.


The Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam has five Schouten diorama's, comparable literature C. Medendorp, E. Sint Nicolaas, Kijkkasten uit Suriname: de diorama's van Gerrit Schouten, 2008. C. Medendorp, Geschiedenis in een kijkkastje, in Bulletin van het Rijksmuseum, jrg. 54, 2006, nr. 3, with a summary in English. C. Medendorp, Gerrit Schouten (1779-1839). Botanische tekeningen en diorama’s uit Suriname. Amsterdam, Royal Tropical Institute / Koninklijk Instituut voor de Tropen, 1999.


The diorama of 1811, by the Surinam artist Gerrit Schouten (1779-1839), is showing a slave dance on a plantation in the Dutch colony of Surinam. In the tent a du is performed, a role-playing with music and dance. Both the performers and the audience were slaves. The lead role was played by afrankeri, the narrator (the woman in the centre). She and the other women are wearing their most beautiful cloths and jewellery. The man in the red outfit at right plays kownu, the king. His shoes belong to his costume; in daily life slaves were not allowed to wear shoes. To keep the slaves productive on the plantations, where they far outnumbered the whites, they were allowed one or two dance parties a year. In the du one could, in a concealed way, criticize certain people or the system of slavery. There are three musicians at the left of the tent. Two are playing the drums and the man standing far left is playing the flute or loango tou-tou. The men at the right of the scene are probably a watchman and a spectator. Apart from the twelve figures in the tent, this early diorama shows slaves living in the village. At the left of the scene a young slave is walking towards his hut. He is carrying a moetete which probably holds the fruits of his vegetable garden. Far right we find two slaves standing or walking near a slave hut. They probably are discussing the dance party in the tent, which one of them is pointing at. The slaves are wearing a simple kamisa or loincloth and go barefooted. The dance tent is bilt of wood and covered with palm leafs, as is the slave hut nearby (all made out of paper of course). The tent is situated in the slave village on a plantation. From the late 17th century onwards there were hundreds of plantations along the rivers in Surinam, run by immigrants from Europe and worked by slaves from West Africa. Their main products were sugar, coffee and cotton. Although their most flourishing period in the mid-18th century ended with a crisis in 1773, in the first decades of the 19th century hundreds of plantations were still in existence and slavery was not ended until 1863. The Surinam artist Gerrit Schouten lived in the colony from 1779 till 1839. His father Hendrik Schouten was a Dutchman who went from Amsterdam to Paramaribo in 1769 in government service and is known as a poet and satirist. In 1772 Hendrik married Suzanna Johanna Schouten, a free coloured woman, who had been educated in the Dutch Republic. Gerrit Carl François was their third child and eldest son. He and his siblings were considered coloureds, which determined their status in 18th and 19th-century Paramaribo. Schouten went to school, but as an artist was entirely self-taught. Dioramas were a speciality of Gerrit Schouten. Since he made them to commission between 1810 and 1839 as souvenir for travellers and European settlers returning home, they are mainly found in European collections. There are five themes in these works: Caribbean or Arowak camps showing the life of the indigenous peoples; slave dances on a plantation; views of plantations; the characteristic cabin boats used by the planters and townscapes of Paramaribo. These dioramas form a significant source of historical and topographical information about Surinam in the early 19th century. Apart from dioramas, Gerrit Schouten specialized in botanical and zoological drawings, depicting the flora and fauna of the New World for collectors and researchers, as did Maria Sibylla Merian a century before him. In his days, Gerrit Schouten gained wide recognition and high prices were paid for his works. In 1828 the artist was awarded a gold medal by King William I for his oeuvre. After Schouten’s death in 1839 his work was spread over the world and was forgotten. Finally in 1999 his drawings and diorama’s were catalogued and exhibited for the first time. We are thankful for Clazien Medendorp for her catalogue entry.

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Made in Holland

October 6, 2015, 7:00 PM CET

Amsterdam, Netherlands