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Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History Essays

The New York Dutch Room

The New York Dutch Room comes from a house built in 1751 in Bethlehem, New York, for Daniel Pieter Winne (1720–1800). The woodwork demonstrates the reliance on traditional Netherlandish building practices in late colonial New York. Dutch immigrants began settling the Hudson River Valley in the early seventeenth century but continued to construct houses and barns much as they had in the Netherlands through the end of the eighteenth century. The New York Dutch Room is presented as a decorative arts gallery rather than furnished as a period room. It features furniture, metalwork, ceramics, and glass distinctive to New York households of Dutch heritage.

Dutch settlement of the New World originated on the island of Manhattan, then rapidly moved northward along the Hudson River to present-day Albany, where a thriving community developed through farming and trade with Native American tribes. Winne’s great-grandfather Pieter Winne (died 1692), the progenitor of the family in America, left Ghent, in the province of Flanders (part of modern-day Belgium), and arrived in New Netherland in 1652 after a brief stay in Curaçao, a Dutch colony in the Caribbean. Through farming and the operation of saw- and gristmills, Pieter Winne acquired a modest estate. He was able to provide his thirteen children with a comfortable upbringing. Winne’s house and mill were situated on a creek named Vloman Kill, or Fleming’s Creek, in recognition of his Flemish origins. The Winne family continued to reside along the creek through the end of the nineteenth century.

For nearly 200 years, the Winnes were tenants of the Van Rensselaer family, the great patroons, or manorial lords, of the Albany region. Their one-million-acre estate was known as Rensselaerswyck. The Van Rensselaers lived in a grand manor house built 1765–69 in the English Georgian style (28.143). The Winnes’ rent varied over time. Until 1764, they ceded 10 percent of their annual produce to the Van Rensselaers. After that, they were required to pay a fixed rate of ten bushels of wheat per year. When Pieter Winne first settled in Rensselaerswyck, his rent went to Jan Baptist Van Rensselaer. The Museum owns a painted glass window (52.77.46) that Van Rensselaer commissioned in 1656 for the First Dutch Reformed Protestant Church of Beverwyck (present-day Albany). After the church was demolished in 1805, the window was installed at the head of the staircase in the family’s manor house.

An artist’s rendering of Daniel Pieter Winne’s house suggests its original appearance. The dominant external feature of a Dutch home was its steep gable roof. It was constructed with a series of post-and-beam supports called “anchor bents.” The spaces between the bents were filled with locally manufactured bricks—known as “nogging”—and then covered with pine clapboards. The interior face of the nogging was plastered and whitewashed. The smoothly planed posts and beams and clean white walls would have enhanced the natural light entering the room from the casement windows.

The wrought iron hardware produced for Dutch houses in upstate New York followed a utilitarian aesthetic. The door hinges found in the New York Dutch Room feature a swelling, or nail pad, at the end closest to the doorjamb (49.117.46). The swelling accommodated additional nails and thus strengthened the hinge’s attachment to the door.

The Winne House had two rooms on the ground floor, with a half-story above and a cellar below. The Museum installed the larger of the two first-floor chambers, which was accessed through the dwelling’s front entrance, an iconic, two-section, Dutch door (NYDR). This room contained an open, or “jambless,” fireplace with a broad hood to draw smoke up the chimney. The mantel was typically draped with a fabric valance as it is displayed today. The mantel, windows, doors, and shutters are reproductions, as the originals were removed over the course of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

Two kasts are in the New York Dutch Room. A distinctive type of cupboard strongly architectural in design, the kast is an icon of seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Dutch-American domesticity. One is a rare example of joined oak furniture from seventeenth-century New York (1988.21). The painting on its surface simulates stone—a highly unusual effect. On the other kast, the doors feature grisaille-painted pomegranates and quinces, symbols of fertility (09.175). Considered a householder’s most important piece of furniture, it was used for storing linens and was often presented as a dowry gift.

Although substantial in size, kasten were often constructed in several pieces and could be easily taken apart for a move. Craftsmen in areas settled by the Dutch in New York and New Jersey made kasts in a range of sizes and quality, while wealthier Dutch New Yorkers owned elaborate examples imported from the Netherlands, which incorporated exotic woods that would have been difficult to obtain in the colonies. A seventeenth-century Dutch genre painting (1975.1.144) features an example with veneers of South American rosewood and African ebony.

The New York Dutch Room installation includes two singular pieces of furniture that suggest the intermingling of English and European craft traditions in colonial New York, a city that supported a diverse population of artisans and patrons. The late seventeenth-century turned armchair (41.111) was originally owned by Dutch immigrants living in the New York City area. There is no doubt the desk-on-frame (44.47) was also made locally. It was discovered in Brooklyn and incorporates gumwood, a regional resource. Moreover, an inscription inside the lid records a business transaction involving one of the numerous Schenck families of Kings County, New York. The double-arched moldings that frame the pigeonholes of the interior can be dated stylistically to about 1700. However, no comparable piece is known.

Also in the New York Dutch Room are a variety of silver vessels manufactured in colonial New York. Two-handled bowls chased into six equal panels, such as the example by Jacob Boelen (24.105), are a form peculiar to early New York silver. Their design represents a crossbreeding of northern European and English sources, with deeper roots in the Italian Renaissance, but their function closely followed Dutch practice of passing a communal beverage at ceremonial events.