Chikako Watanabe / The Third House Owner

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In a house as old as Huis Marseille – 353 years – the histories of its many former residents are as interwoven as the traces and building styles they left behind. The first owner, Isaac Focquier, had the house built in 1665 and gave it the name Marseille, in gold-painted letters on the façade. In later centuries other residents made their own additions, such as the beautiful plasterwork in the hallway. Not all of the house’s previous residents left their mark on the house, but some bequeathed it a painted portrait, such as Wouter Valckenier, the third owner, who bought Huis Marseille in 1683 and lived there until his death, after which the house was sold again in 1709. The 1684 portrait of Wouter Valckenier in a ‘japonse rok’ (a banyan) inspired the contemporary Japanese artist Chikako Watanabe to create an associative installation whose title refers to Wouter Valckenier.

The third house owner: Wouter Valckenier

On 25 June 1683 Wouter Valckenier bought Huis Marseille: it was a home of his own at last, after he, his wife and children had lodged for years with his father-in-law, the rich arms dealer Louys Trip, in the Trippenhuis on the Kloveniersburgwal. Valckenier’s wife Anna-Maria had died a few weeks after giving birth to their fourth child, tensions were running high between father-in-law and son-in-law, and when Wouter discovered that Anna-Maria had written him out of her will three months before her death, he was flabbergasted. In Huis Marseille he finally found the peaceful home he had been seeking. In 1684 he had Michiel van Musscher paint his portrait, wearing a long wig and dressed in an expensive japonse rok (a banyan, or kimono-style dressing gown). Eleven years earlier, in 1673, Van Musscher had painted a portrait of the then 21-year-old Anna-Maria; if the portraits were hung together, Wouter and Anna-Maria could be together again after all.

The japonse rok as inspiration for a contemporary Japanese artist

In her installation in the basement of Huis Marseille, Keizersgracht 401, the Japanese artist Chikako Watanabe has Wouter Valckenier wander through today’s museum, wearing his long wig and japonse rok. Wouter muses on the past: his wedding to Anna-Maria, his grief after her death, and the puzzle of his disinheritance. Signs that time has not stood still since his own departure continually cross his path. Around him a new exhibition has been constructed in the museum for photography that Huis Marseille has been since 1999. In the hall cupboard he finds soap, savon de Marseille, the French city with which the house’s first resident, Focquier traded and after which the house is named. And all around Wouter there is water: from the murky brown water of an Amsterdam canal to the clear blue Mediterranean sea of Marseille. Water is the common factor that linked the trade between Focquier, Marseille, Japan and Amsterdam through the centuries.

An associative installation based on the history of Huis Marseille

In The Third House Owner Watanabe uses an associative storytelling style to link Huis Marseille with its eponymous city and with the Far East, where the Dutch United East India Company did much of its trade. She has elaborated these links in surprising ways. In Marseille she filmed the calanques – the characteristic, steep, white limestone rock formations along the coast. She also visited the soap factory ‘Savonnerie Marius Fabre’ in Salon-de-Provence, where savon de Marseille has been produced to traditional recipes and using traditional methods since 1900. For her installation she had the olive-coloured soap blocks given the special imprint of a seal, inspired by the era of the Ancient Greeks in which Phocaean settlers had founded the colony of Massalia, now the city of Marseille. Their coins had carried the image of a seal that referred to the Greek meaning of the name of their own city, Phocaea. The divergent histories of the residents of Huis Marseille and the source of its name, a city in the south of France, are called up in this installation and linked in surprising and non-chronological ways.

Chikako Watanabe

The artist Chikako Watanabe (1969) was born in Kariya, a city in the Aichi prefecture in Japan. During her Master’s degree in the ceramics department of the Kyoto City University of Arts she took part in an AIDS poster project run by Artscape in Kyoto. She noticed that the Dutch posters showed an entirely different style than that of the neighbouring countries, and she became fascinated by the Netherlands and the Dutch. In 1995 Watanabe moved to the Netherlands, and she has lived and worked in Amsterdam ever since. She completed a Master’s degree in the Applied Arts department of the Sandberg Institute, and was given a residency at the Rijksakademie van beeldende kunsten (national academy for the visual arts). Watanabe’s projects involve research into the local cultures and traditions of communities in different countries. She then uses her findings to create mixed-media installations, which often involve performances and workshops. Chikako Watanabe’s work has been exhibited in the Mori Art Museum in Tokyo, Museum de Lakenhal in Leiden, Museum de Paviljoens in Almere, the Aichi Arts Center, and elsewhere. Showing simultaneously with The Third House Owner, two earlier installations by Chikako Watanabe can be seen on the bel-etage and in the light court of Keizersgracht 399: Island Tracing (2012) and Survival Net (2000).

Caroline Hanken’s book on the residential history of Huis Marseille

In September 2019 it will be 20 years since the museum for photography Huis Marseille was founded, and in the run-up to this festive moment Huis Marseille is organizing a number of exhibitions that focus on its own collection and history. The Third House Owner by Chikako Watanabe forms part of this programme. Watanabe herself was inspired by the research that Caroline Hanken did for her book on the residential history of Huis Marseille, a book which will be published by nai010 in September 2019.

Exhibition publication

Chikako Watanabe, Netting Air. From the Low Land (HeHe, 2018). Hard cover, full colour, 144 pages. Available in the Huis Marseille museum shop.