This cover design with two wayang kulit figures for a book about ‘Neerlands Indië’ (the Dutch East Indies) was made in 1911 by the Dutch craftsman and graphic designer Chris Lebeau, who was also a gifted batik artist. Lebeau’s cover design is a good example of how the experiments in the Netherlands with the Indonesian batik technique influenced Dutch graphic design. Not only the color palette – white, blue and brown – is derived from Javanese batik, but also the manner in which the colors are neatly placed next to each other and almost nowhere overlap each other, is similar to batik patterns. The many spiral shapes (with a drop shape in the middle) resemble the shapes that arise when drawing with fluid wax on fabric using a Javanese tjanting.
Lebeau made his first batiks in 1897 after hearing a lecture about Javanese sarongs at the Rijksschool voor Kunstnijverheid in Amsterdam. In 1900 he took part in the research in the laboratory of the Colonial Museum in Haarlem to find other batik techniques and dyes that were more suitable for the conditions in the Netherlands. Eventually he mastered the batik technique so well that he could make batiks for all kinds of purposes and of very high quality. Lebeau’s batik work was shown at home and abroad and won many awards at exhibitions. He also taught many other artists how to batik. In 1907 he was even asked to lead a batik school in Buitenzorg in Java. However, due to the many assignments he had to cancel the trip. His assistant Piet Ducro traveled in his place to the Dutch East Indies to teach the new Dutch batik method to the students.
Trip to Java
In 1914 Lebeau finally got the chance to visit the Dutch East Indies himself when the theater company Die Haghespelers, for which he designed the sets and costumes, toured Java. During this trip they also attended a wedding ceremony at the royal court of Yogyakarta. Lebeau later incorporated the impressions that he gained here into his designs for the stained-glass windows of the wedding room in the Amsterdam town hall.
Chris Lebeau, approx. 1900-1910: batik scarf in yellow-gold, blue, white and green. (Rijksmuseum collection)
Chris Lebeau, approx. 1900-1902: batik fireplace screen with a geometric decor of stylized fish. (Rijksmuseum collection)