View of the Coffee Plantation Marienbosch in Surinam
This painting is a view of the Marienbosch coffee plantation along the banks of the Commewijne River in the Dutch colony of Surinam (present-day Suriname). Alongside coffee, the plantation also produced cotton and cocoa. The artist, Willem de Klerk, never visited Surinam. Instead, he based this painting on a drawing made by Alexander Ludwich Brockmann. Brockmann was a painter in the Dutch colony. Klerk presents an idyllic picture that emphasizes the plantation’s tropical landscape through prominent palm trees and lush greenery. Across the canal is a cluster of neatly positioned plantation buildings and a field of trees (either coffee or cocoa trees) organized in neat rows. Despite the large size of the Marienbosch plantation, the scene is mostly devoid of human figures. This can be interpreted as a deliberate omission by the artist to deemphasize the fact that the plantation relied on enslaved labor. Klerk's work, however, is not entirely devoid of human figures. Several enslaved persons of African descent are visible in the background spreading coffee beans on a stone floor to dry in the sun. In the foreground is an enslaved woman holding a container on her head while escorting a small child while another enslaved person paddles a dugout canoe in the canal. While the composition includes some of the plantation’s enslaved laborers, their presence is largely relegated to the background.
Willem de Klerk, View of the Coffee Plantation Marienbosch in Surinam, ca. 1829-76, SK-A-4087, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam.
Annotated by Raymond Hyser