A tiny Rembrandt, a barnyard scene, a barroom brawl

June 12, 2009 at 4:58 pm Leave a comment

Snug Harbor’s ‘Dutch Treats’ explores all aspects of the Henry Hudson era, courtesy of collector George WayIf Henry Hudson had ever had as nice a place as the great room in “Dutch Treats,” he would have skipped that wild goose chase that landed him in New York (instead of China).

“Dutch Treats” has two sections — a lavishly furnished 17th-century period room and a picture gallery, side-by-side in the Visitors Center of the Snug Harbor Cultural Center and Botanical Garden.

There are extraordinary portraits, miniatures, landscape paintings, coins and medals, a tiny Rembrandt etching (“Beggar Woman”), an elaborately carved stool, chairs, chests and silver objects, plus bowls, Delft pots and vases that have survived for 400 years practically without a chip.

Among the older pieces, a tiny oil-on-copper painting reveals a shrewd-looking woman who had her likeness painted in 1609, the year Hudson set sail on the Half Moon.

With about 60 pieces, “Dutch Treats” represents only an excerpt from the collections of George Way.

Self-trained, the Silver Lake resident has been amassing 16th- and 17th-century Dutch and English art, furniture and domestic objects for more than 40 years, right here in the Northeast, on foot or aboard buses, ferries and trains. He doesn’t drive.

Only a very well-to-do household would have so many possessions as the imaginary family in “Dutch Treats.”
‘Dutch Treats: Highlights from the Collections of George Way’

Snug Harbor Cultural Center and Botanical Garden
1000 Richmond Terr., Livingston

Tuesdays to Sundays,
10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
through Sept. 27

Some will be familiar with Way from past shows and from his column about collecting. He’s a regular contributor to the Home section of the Advance.

He’s had several showcases at Snug Harbor, where his collection may one day reside permanently, and one at the Alice Austen House Museum (“The Alice Austen House Returns to Its Roots”), where it fit perfectly into the Rosebank museum’s two vintage Dutch interiors.

Start in the gallery, where it’s easy to get an up-close look at 17th-century Dutch faces, rulers, rooms, the countryside, daily life and leisure time.

One of the finest paintings in “Dutch Treats” is “Young Woman at Her Vanity” by Gabriel Metsu, a tiny, gleaming boudoir moment that may represent a proposal. It’s a mystery.

The beautifully dressed lady is surprised by the arrival of a visitor, a young hunter who’s clutching a dead bird. Will she accept the gift? Or is he the gift?

She isn’t the room’s only mysterious presence. There’s the lady in “Woman with Sunset” — a dark-eyed, good-looking woman with loose hair, dark clothing, and pearl necklace and earrings — painted by Nicholas Maes, a well-known artist.

Who is she? Is she in mourning? And what’s under the dark varnish that obscures the details of this picture and messes with the contours of her aristocratic nose?

Speaking of noses, get a look at William III, the Dutchman who married Queen Mary II, establishing himself on the English throne (which he and the wife shared).

With his majestic hooked nose, he is hard to miss. You’ll spot him easily on two coins, a medal in the glass-topped case and in his period room portrait.

Don’t miss the party corner, where genre paintings depict brawlers, dancers, drinkers and a hooker with a client. They are negotiating prices and procedures, while a cradle rocks nearby.

As much as they liked fine things and Sunday-best portraiture, the Dutch also liked to hang paintings (or drawings or prints) of low-life misbehavior, pastoral idylls and barnyard vignettes.

Habits and customs that are described in two dimensions (in the gallery) materialize in the period room.
Tobacco, a New World commodity, was costly, rare and popular. Many remnants of 17th/18th-century white-clay pipes have been recovered on the Island.
The table, where the master of the house has left his clay pipe and fancy silver tobacco box, is spread with a “Turkey” rug, much like the Metsu interior next door.

Along three walls, there are chairs (tall and carved), stools (short and carved) and chests (sturdy and carved). Carving was necessary, plain lines were unfashionable.

However splendid, the low, straight-backed chairs look uncomfortable, while the chests and tables look indestructible.

There isn’t much light, so it’s difficult to make out the details: The “MM” insignia in one chest, the tulips, rosettes and scrolls in another. Tulips, imported from Turkey, were a well-developed Dutch passion.

William and Mary, who were crowned in 1689, introduced a somewhat leaner, less ornamented style in furniture. Several pieces are in “Dutch Treats.” Clearly, it was appreciated or it would not have survived 300 years.

As sumptuous as “Dutch Treats” is, it is a no-frills enterprise. There’s no program: No tours or talks, no workshops or presentations.

There’s no visible tie-in with any of the dozens of Henry Hudson Quadricentennial presentations, which seems shortsighted. There’s no brochure, no guide for kids.

It’s a shame. All New York exhibiting entities understand that programs are not only worthwhile, they keep the public interested. They boost attendance.

In the 1990s, when the visual arts department at Snug Harbor’s Newhouse Center for Contemporary Art was a respected entity on the city art scene, every exhibit of any size had artist talks, workshops, performances, guided walk-throughs, programs for children, etc.

Times have changed, of course. Today, shortcomings at any not-for-profit cultural entity are explained/excused by reference to the economic picture.

Still, it’s hard to imagine that some on- or off-Island entity — perhaps a Dutch bank, brewer or shipping line — wouldn’t toss a modest little program grant toward such an effort.

Hopefully, Patrick Grenier, the visual arts director appointed this spring (long after the planning of “Dutch Treats”), will have some luck restoring the program’s funding stream.

by Michael J. Fressola
Staten Island Advance


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