Batik work by Theo Neuhuys

Fragment of a calendar shield with two marabou storks, designed by Theo Neuhuys in 1904. Collection: Anno1900.nl

Just as Indonesian artists were influenced by Western art, there were also many Dutch artists who were inspired by the art and culture of the Dutch East Indies. One of the best-known examples of this cultural interaction is batik. Around 1900, Dutch craftsmen began to experiment with this Javanese decoration technique for cotton fabrics.

Batik booklet, made in circa 1905 by Theo Neuhuys

There is a wonderful story about the young art nouveau artist Carel Adolph Lion Cachet, who saw a collection of Javanese sarongs and slendangs during a study visit to the Ethnographic Museum in the Amsterdam Zoo. Back at home Lion Cachet immediately started experimenting. He drew on his bed sheet with beeswax a blossom branch that he could see from his window and immersed the sheet in a dye bath that he had prepared with the help of an old brochure about batik. When his sister came to make his bed a few hours later, the sheet with the image of the blossom branch was already hanging on the clothesline. According to the story, Lion Cachet’s dyed bed sheet was the first batik work of art by a European artist.

Batik on parchment
After these first experiments, Lion Cachet and other Dutch craftsmen managed to adjust the batik process so that it could also be applied to parchment. The Javanese decorating technique was used to decorate wall coverings, folding screens, bookbindings, charters, tablecloths, tea hats and much more. It became an important Dutch contribution to the new international style, which is now called Art Nouveau or Jugendstil.

The small business card booklet shown above is made of parchment with a wine red batik decoration. It is made around 1905 by the Dutch designer Theo Neuhuys (1878-1921). The decoration with a pattern of circles, dots and spiral shapes is characteristic for the geometric variant of Dutch Art Nouveau.

Theo Neuhuys was one of the first batik artists in The Netherlands. In 1907 he wrote an article about Dutch batik for the American arts and crafts magazine Ceramic Studio in which he explains how to batik on parchment. Read a summary of his article below.

THE BATIK by Theo Neuhuys
Published in KERAMIC STUDIO May 1907 p. 20-24 + June 1907 p. 43-45
Theo Neuhuys, batik album (image from the arts and crafts magazine Bouw- en Sierkunst, 1902)

The art of “batiking”, originally and characteristically East Indian, has now been practiced in Holland for some time. (…) The beautiful batik products, which have come from Java to Holland and have met with more and more appreciation, induced some people to study the technique of the craft, and to make it one of our own industrial arts.

I was among those who started by experimenting, without any help, with the dyeing of parchment. It so happened that it took me a year to experiment with a blue dye alone. I indeed knew that indigo was used for this purpose, but the difficulty lay in the fact that the color was to be prepared so as to be non-fading and fast, and, so to speak, to become one with the parchment. Considering that parchment is a rather expensive material, the reader will realize that these experiments were costly, but at last I found a very simple indigo bath, answering all requirements, and composed as follows:

Blue dye — Rub the indigo to a very fine powder and mix it with green vitriol, until it becomes a thick paste. Let it stand at least two days, then mix it with one part green vitriol and five parts water. With this color the parchment is dyed as many times as is needed to give it the desired intensity of color.

Red dye — One gramme of carmine and fifteen grammes of spirits of ammonia. Bet the dye stand one day before using.

Yellow and brown dye — Make a saturated solution of bichromate of potash in water, and steep the parchment in it. The latter is then exposed to the air for a day. A beautiful brown is the result. Heat the water to 6o° C.

Theo Neuhuys, batik album (image from the arts and crafts magazine Bouw- en Sierkunst, 1902)

Dark brown and black dye — Make a saturated solution of sulphate of iron in water, heated to 6o° C, and steep in this bath the spots that have first been dyed red. This will give an especially fine, deep brown, sometimes almost black.

These colors on parchment are astonishingly rich and of unsurpassed brilliancy. In my opinion, there is no material, which, when dyed, produces such a magnificent effect as parchment, and for this reason I spared no trouble in perfecting my experiments. The genuine animal parchment cannot be decorated, logically and well, in any other way. Printed colors can be scratched off, and gold wears off, but these mordant dyes permeate the parchment and become one with it.

The parchment is stretched on a sheet of glass, as designers stretch their paper on a drawing board, by gumming the edges. Just like the paper, the parchment is first moistened, then the design is pasted to the back. The sheet of glass is then placed at an angle of 45 against a window receiving a good Northern light, the part of the window above the glass being covered up, so that the light falls through the sheet of glass and it is very easy to trace the design on the parchment with the melted wax. When this is done, a little ridge of clay is built around the design, in such a way that the pasted strips are covered, then the dye is poured into the basin thus formed. After a quarter of an hour the dye is poured out and the dyed parchment rinsed off with a syringe, then dried. Subsequently the wax is scratched off and washed off with turpentine, the second covering of wax is applied for the second dyeing, and so on.

Tea cozy with batik decoration by Theo Neuhuys (image from the arts and crafts magazine Bouw- en Sierkunst, 1902)

Batiking itself, the designing in wax, is almost exclusively done with the Javanese tjantings, small wax vessels with spouts. (…) The difference between printing and batiking is as follows: in the former process the surface of the fabric only is treated; it is a mechanical process, subject to definite rules and patterns, while batiking is a perfect combination of textile and color and is a free, individual art.

May many feel called to apply themselves to this fine craft, and in so doing enrich modern industrial art with a new branch, which may bear as beautiful fruit as its sister branch, the Javanese art of batiking.

All examples and images for this post are from the Anno1900 collection.

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