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.