Slavery, Sugar, and the Culture of Refinement Kay Dian Kriz

Publication date:
27 Jun 2008
Paul Mellon Centre
288 pages: 254 x 190mm
80 b-w + 40 color illus.
Sales territories:


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.

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).

Chosen as an Outstanding Academic Title for 2009 by Choice Magazine