In previous posts about the Fries Museum in Leeuwarden (The Netherlands) we looked at exhibitions revolving around knitting and unique textile artists. The museum is continuing its explorations of different fabrics with an exceptional display of chintz that opened a week ago.
Curated by Gieneke Arnolli "Chintz, Cotton in Bloom" (Sits, katoen in bloei; until 10th September) features the extensive and well-preserved collection of chintz from the museum archives.
This shiny, floral, hand-painted cotton arrived from India to Europe in the 16th century, becoming a favourite fabric thanks to its beautiful patterns.
Chintz played an important role in the 17th century: sailors from the United East Indian Company (Dutch: Vereenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie or VOC) exchanged the cotton fabrics they got in India for spices in Indonesia.
In a nutshell, chintz was the VOC's currency; after the mid-17th century, the Company imported exotic chintz to The Netherlands. A century later the painted floral decorations became so fashionable that they turned into a part of regional costumes in the Netherlands: favoured for their deep colours and beautiful designs, they became hugely popular for interior design purposes and in particular for coverings and bedspreads.
They were then was applied to men, women and children's clothing and integrated into women's clothing in the Frisian town of Hindeloopen. At times they were used as set-in pieces in lace or embroideries or worn as collars and caps, employed to cover the neck and shoulders and show off the colour of the fabric in a more original way.
The exhibition showcases fabrics from India, Indonesia and Japan and the objects displayed range from clothes and accessories to wall hangings and blankets.
Visitors who love graphic designs will enjoy the wide variety of colourful floral patterns blooming on skirts, jackets, sun hats and wapenpalempores (bedspreads with a coat of arms).
There are a few rare pieces in the exhibition such as an 18th-century kimono. The Netherlands was the only Western country allowed to trade with Japan at that time, and the "Japanese dress" became therefore pretty fashionable. At the same time the popularity of chintz grew during this period. This is the reason why the Japanese kimono included in the exhibition was painted 300 years ago in India with Japanese pine trees in chintz style, but was then worn in The Netherlands.
Another rare 17th-century masterpiece is a tapestry decorated with lions, mythical birds and a border with amorous scenes. This is actually the oldest chintz object in the country.
People will also get the chance to discover the special techniques of this craft. The name of this fabric comes from the Persian "chitta", which means "printing". Chintz is created through a complex, time-consuming and labour-intensive process: the cotton is hand-painted with natural dyes and the designs are very detailed.
The Fries Museum is known for its events exploring the past but projected into the future, and "Chintz, Cotton in Bloom" follows this tradition: together with the Textiel Factorij, the museum presents in the last room of the exhibition displays of contemporary textile works by Dutch artists and designers made with Indian artisans.
Several designers (including Barbara Broekman, Eline Groeneweg, Alya Hessy, Gerard Jasperse, Fransje Killaars, Jasmin Koschutnig, Ruud Lanfermeijer, Sarojini Lewis, Simone Post, Jenne Sipman and Linda Valkeman) explored ancient traditions (it must be noted that the cutting of printing blocks and the kalamkari, that is the art of hand-painting or block-printing cotton textiles, have become rare skills) and new technical possibilities of chintz. Some of the highlights in this section are made by a well-known contemporary chintz-maker, Renuka Reddy.
Think chintz is fine for a museum, but too dated for contemporary purposes? Well, you're wrong: some of the designs on display (see the kimono) could be considered as the result of multicultural influences in one garment. This textile could therefore become a symbolic way to remind visitors that an open-minded approach to other countries and traditions generates not just innovative and timeless pieces, but constructive intercultural relations. And in our times of chaos and narrow-minded nationalism we definitely need this approach.
Image credits for this post
1. Detail of woman's coat, part of a Hindelooper woman costume. Cotton, dyed chintz, India, 1725-1750. Fries Museum Leeuwarden - Koninklijk Fries Genootschap Collection. Photo © Fries Museum Leeuwarden.
2. Woman's coat, part of Hindelooper woman costume. Cotton, dyed chintz, India, 1725-1750. Fries Museum Leeuwarden - Koninklijk Fries Genootschap Collection. Photo © Fries Museum Leeuwarden.
3. Jacket in 'Japanese style', painted with pine motifs on red ground, lined with two types of simple printed Indian cotton. Cotton, dyed chintz, India from 1700 to 1725. Collection: Fries Museum, Leeuwarden. Photo © fotostudio Noorderblik.
4. Detail Japonese jacket, Collection Fries Museum, Leeuwarden. Photo © fotostudio Noorderblik.
5. Chintz bedspread with large floral patterns. Cotton, dyed chintz, India from 1700 to 1725. Fries Museum Leeuwarden - Koninklijk Fries Genootschap Collection. Photo © Fries Museum Leeuwarden.
6. Detail of chintz bedspread. Fries Museum Leeuwarden - Koninklijk Fries Genootschap Collection. Photo © fotostudio Noorderblik.
7. Double jacket and chintz skirt with large designs, worn around 1765. Cotton, dyed chintz, made in India around 1750. Collection: Fries Museum, Leeuwarden. Photo © fotostudio Noorderblik.
8. Detail of chintz tablecloth painted with mythical creatures and figure scenes. South India, around 1650. Fries Museum, Leeuwarden - loan Ottema-Kingma Foundation. Photo © fotostudio Noorderblik.
9. Sun hat with chintz lining. Cotton, dyed chintz, India around 1730. Fries Museum Leeuwarden - Koninklijk Fries Genootschap Collection. Photo © fotostudio Noorderblik.
10. Woman's coat. Cotton, dyed chintz, India 1750 - 1800. Fries Museum Leeuwarden - Koninklijk Fries Genootschap Collection. Photo © fotostudio Noorderblik.