Exploring Dutch Legacy 400 Years After Hudson
“Dutch New York: The Roots of Hudson Valley Culture,” an ambitious exhibition at the Hudson River Museum in Yonkers, reveals how New Yorkers have both embraced and mocked their Dutch heritage since 1609, when Henry Hudson first sailed up the river that now bears his name.
The Dutch ruled New York for little more than five decades, but even after they lost it to the British in 1664, Dutch colonists held on to their heritage. For nearly a century they continued to speak Dutch, attend the Dutch Reformed Church and maintain Dutch dress, traditions and architectural forms (windmills and stone farmhouses).
The exhibition includes the kinds of Dutch furnishings that might have been found in 17th- century estates: pewter plates, silver bowls, brass candlesticks, Dutch tiles, Bible boxes, Delft jars and Dutch cupboards, called kasts.
One unusual kast on view is covered with trompe l’oeil fruit and foliage painted to imitate carved-wood decorations. A garniture of handsome blue-and-white Delft jars sits on top. Such things would have belonged to someone very proud of his Dutch heritage.
By the 1800s, however, the new American republic was flaunting its independence from Europe and satirizing its Dutch legacy. Paintings by the American artist John Quidor portray Dutch patriots like Peter Stuyvesant, the last Dutch governor of New York, as unruly, overweight and hard living. Quidor took his inspiration from Washington Irving’s humorous 1809 book “Knickerbocker’s History of New York.” In it Irving describes Stuyvesant as “tough, sturdy, valiant, weather-beaten, mettlesome, obstinate.”
Quidor goes further. In “Antony Van Corlear Brought Into the Presence of Peter Stuyvesant,” an 1839 painting, Quidor shows the peg-legged Stuyvesant as bursting out of his britches, probably drunk, as he sits sprawled in a thronelike chair in his crowded office, smoking his pipe. He is waving his walking stick in the air to the music of his favorite trumpeter, Van Corlear. Behind him a white-haired old man and a black man are dancing, wildly gesticulating to the beat.
“Quidor is making fun of Stuyvesant, and he is much more mean spirited than Irving,” said Laura Vookles, the museum’s chief curator of collections. “He zeroed in on and exaggerated moments in Irving and combined them with stereotypes. The humor is affectionate, but like all burlesque it can be mean.”
After the Philadelphia Centennial of 1876 Dutch New Yorkers, like others who started to re-examine their colonial roots, formed an organization as a way of reclaiming their heritage, calling it the Holland Society. “They wanted to make a statement about their pedigree and elite lineage, almost like American aristocrats,” Ms. Vookles said. “They smoked Dutch pipes, socialized a lot, traveled to Holland and even arranged for a replica of the Half Moon” — Hudson’s ship — “to be made.”
The society also promoted scholarship, paying to have early Dutch Reformed Church documents translated for the first time, for example.
“The image of the Dutch was totally turned around,” Ms. Vookles said. “Now the Dutch were seen as good and industrious, neat, clean, upright Calvinists.”
This positive perception was abundantly on display during the 1909 Hudson-Fulton celebration, held in New York and other towns along the river. A poster depicts the Half Moon sailing in front of Fulton’s steamship, an ocean liner, Wilbur Wright’s biplane and the Statue of Liberty.
Upstate, Poughkeepsie paid its own tribute. “In public speeches President Taylor of Vassar credited the Dutch with New York’s cosmopolitanism, largess and liberality, while Henry S. Van Duzen, president of the Poughkeepsie Holland Society, reminded his audience of the Dutch institutions of freedom of worship and free schools that had taken root here,” Roger Panetta writes in the excellent companion volume to the show. Van Duzen heralded “the Dutch energy and Dutch strength and Dutch force to which we are indebted in this nation.”
Could any speech be more appropriate today for the quadricentennial?
(The show, which closes on Jan. 10, is only one of many programs marking the quadricentennial of Hudson’s discovery in New York. Information: exploreny400.com.)
A LONDON FAIR ENDS
When word came this week that the Grosvenor House Art & Antiques Fair in London was going out of business after 75 years, news reports suggested that its demise was because this year’s edition had not been very successful. The actual reason might have more to do with real estate. The fair is held in the ballroom of the Grosvenor House Hotel.
“It is the largest ballroom in London and is used enormously,” said Diana Cawdell, a spokeswoman for the fair. “It is much-sought-after as a location. The hotel simply didn’t want it taken off the market for three weeks.”
Simon Phillips, a London dealer and chairman of the fair, said he was disappointed.
“This June was the best show I’ve ever had,” he said. “But what we are retiring are the venue and title. Another fair is definitely not out of the question.”
Asked if his fair would merge with the Olympia International Art & Antiques Fair, whose 2009 edition ended on June 13 in London, Mr. Phillips said, “Definitely not.”
BAROQUE IN LONDON
July 19 is closing day for the Victoria & Albert Museum’s blockbuster show “Baroque 1620-1800: Style in the Age of Magnificence” in London.
Using piped-in music, film projected on the gallery walls and some 200 objects, the exhibition makes the case that Baroque was the first truly global style, one exported to Russia, Brazil, Mexico, Goa, India and the Philippines.
Baroque style is unabashedly opulent, but the presentation here is spare. Old master paintings, ornate furniture from Versailles, huge silver chandeliers, gilded altarpieces and German court jewels are silhouetted against plain backgrounds of different colors.
Music fills galleries devoted to theater, public spaces, sacred spaces and palaces. We see how kings like Louis XIV employed spectacle (opera, plays, public celebrations) to express power. A new documentary film on the court theater at Cesky Krumlov in the Czech Republic shows men manipulating winches to move sets and candle lanterns.
As a style Baroque was highly adaptable, which contributed to its global success. It’s a pity this show won’t travel the same routes Baroque took.
By WENDY MOONAN
Entry filed under: Get Wet, Maritime, Region. Tags: 400th anniversary, antiques, Dutch, Dutch Reformed Church, Grosvenor House Art & Antiques Fair, Henry Hudson, Hudson River, Hudson River Museum, Hudson-Fulton celebration, legacy, quadricentennial, Washington Irving.