Art/ Collection/ Art Object


ca. 1920s
Indonesia, Java, Pekalongan
W. 100 3/4 x H. 41 1/2 in. (255.91 x 105.41 cm)
Credit Line:
Gift of Delia Tyrwhitt, 1965
Accession Number:
Not on view
Made during the Japanese occupation of Indonesia during World War II, this polychrome batiked cotton panel features a background of two designs, one with elaborated S curves in royal blue alternating with forest green, and one with paired circles (alternately white and dotted with yellow tan). Superimposed on this background are bold sprays of flowers and butterflies, feng huang on one end, and dogtooth borders on the sides.
The Japanese occupation had a profound impact on Java. Wartime shortages, economic depression, and the flight of the Dutch colonial officials and settlers who had ruled the archipelago for more than three centuries deprived batik producers of customers and raw materials. The supply of high-quality cotton cloth from mills in the Netherlands, used to produce most Javanese batiks, was cut off and existing stockpiles quickly began to run low. Ever innovative, Javanese artists responded to these conditions by creating a new batik style, known as batik Hokokai.
Named for Djawa Hokokai, a Japanese political organization that sought to channel Indonesian labor and resources towards the war effort, batik Hokokai brought the art form to new heights of ornateness. Faced with limited supplies of cloth, batik artists began to devote far more time to decorating each individual textile, creating complex compositions in which there are almost no areas of solid color and virtually the entire surface is covered in minutely detailed designs. Although batik Hokokai was often marketed to Japanese customers, its imagery shows little direct influence from Japanese art. Instead, the cloths reflect a continuation of the blending of Javanese, European, and Chinese influences that began in the batik centers of Java’s north coast in the late nineteenth century.
In this example European-inspired butterflies and flowers appear against a background of diagonal bands composed of indigenous motifs, including the four-lobed kawung -- one of the oldest batik motifs, once restricted solely to the royal courts of central Java. The result is a striking composition as colorful and exuberant as the war years were grim.
Delia Tyrwhitt, Stockbridge, MA, until 1965

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