Slavery, Sugar, and the Culture of Refinement


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Picturing the British West Indies, 1700-1840

Kay Dian Kriz


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This highly original book asks new questions about paintings and prints associated with the British West Indies between 1700 and 1840, when the trade in sugar and slaves was most active and profitable. In a wide-ranging study of scientific illustrations, scenes of daily life, caricatures, and landscape imagery, Kay Dian Kriz analyzes the visual culture of refinement that accompanied the brutal process by which African slaves transformed “rude” sugar cane into pure white crystals.

In these works refinement is usually associated with the metropole, and “rudeness” with the colonies. Many artists capitalized on those characteristics of rudeness—animality, sensuality, and savagery—that increasingly became associated with all the island inhabitants. Yet other artists produced works that offered the possibility of colonial refinement, not just economic profit and sexual pleasure, thus complicating perceptions of difference between the two sides of the Atlantic.

Published for the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art

Kay Dian Kriz is associate professor of art history in the Department of History of Art and Architecture, Brown University. She is the author of The Idea of the English Landscape Painter (Yale).

"As much social history as art book. . . . Scholarly and topically informative."—Art Times

"Having successfully wed art history and postcolonial studies to build her arguments, Kriz has made a substantial contribution to the growing body of literature on visual culture in the Atlantic World."—Stephanie Shestakow, College Art Association

"This attractive, well-produced, documented, and thoughtful book will be embraced by art historians and historians." —Verene Shepherd, Journal of British Studies

Chosen as an Outstanding Academic Title for 2009 by Choice Magazine

Winner of the 2009 Book Prize in the Post-1800 Category, presented by Historians of British Art.
ISBN: 9780300140620
Publication Date: August 20, 2008
Publishing Partner: Published for the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art
288 pages, 7 1/2 x 10
80 b/w + 40 color illus.
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