Published: January 3, 2017
DETROIT, MICH. — The Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA) presents “Bitter|Sweet: Coffee, Tea & Chocolate,” on view through March 5. The introduction of coffee, tea and chocolate to Europe, beginning in the late Sixteenth Century, profoundly changed drinking habits, tastes and social customs, and spurred demand for specialized vessels such as tea canisters, coffee cups, sugar bowls and chocolate pots.
The 68 works of art in “Bitter|Sweet” are mostly from the museum’s comprehensive holdings in pre-1850 European silver and ceramics.
Highlights include three decorated beverage services: a rare 24-piece set made by Germany’s Fürstenberg Porcelain Manufactory; a set once owned by Prince Louis, Duke of Nemours that illustrates the refinement of early Nineteenth Century French Sèvres porcelain; and a Vienna Porcelain ensemble for two associated with Archduke Joseph of Austria. DIA paintings, prints and sculpture related to the arrival and impact of the beverages in Europe help create new contexts and connections for objects from the permanent collection.
Other key works include Madame de Pompadour’s coffee grinder from Paris’ Musée du Louvre, a 1684 handwritten Spanish manuscript satirizing the vogue for chocolate from the Hispanic Society, New York, and an Eighteenth Century German breakfast set containing chocolate beakers, from the Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, Mass. Diego Velázquez’s painting “Infanta Maria Theresa” from the Museum of Fine Arts Boston helps tell the story of the cocoa bean’s migration from the New World to the French royal court of Louis XIV via Spain.
“The exhibition is a very exciting venture for the DIA, with regards to the rich, complex story we’re telling, and the innovative visitor-centered ways in which we are presenting it,” said Salvador Salort-Pons, DIA director. “While European art will be at center stage, the exhibition examines global interconnections from centuries ago that we hope will resonate with all visitors today. Just about everyone, regardless of culture or background, has a personal relationship with one or more of these beverages. I’m also excited about the ways the exhibition engages the permanent collection. Of course, I love that several of the loans in ‘Bitter|Sweet’ comment on Spain’s relationship to chocolate.”
“Bitter|Sweet” also touches on the human cost of procuring the raw materials to produce coffee, tea and chocolate as well as the sugar used to alter the beverages’ bitter taste. Coffee was imported from Africa through the Middle East, tea from Asia, chocolate from the Americas, and sugar harvested by slaves on colonial plantations. To meet demand and keep prices down for the European market, merchants, such as the Dutch East India Company and the British East India Company, eventually found ways to cultivate tea and coffee bushes on foreign lands colonized under their rule.
The catalog, Coffee, Tea, and Chocolate: Consuming the World, by exhibition curator Yao-Fen You, with essays by Mimi Hellman and Hope Saska ($25) was distributed by Yale University Press.
The Detroit Institute of Arts is at 5200 Woodward Avenue. For more information, www.dia.org or 313-833-7900.
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