New York, Once New Amsterdam: The Flow of Dutch Influence Over the Atlantic | November 6, 2023

Present-day Lower Manhattan proudly carries the historic legacy of the early Dutch settlement established in 1624. For 40 years, New Amsterdam served as the foothold for the Dutch in the New World. Along with the ebb and flow of commerce and trade came the influence of Dutch artists that would help transform the art scene of the beginning centuries of the American colonies.

The influence of Dutch Masters such as Rembrandt and Peter Paul Rubens (Fig. 1), is a traceable thread as seen here with self portraits of Benjamin West (Fig. 2) copying Rubens. West’s student, Gilbert Stuart (Fig. 3) then came to immortalize George Washington (Fig. 4) (Lot 1132 in our November 18, 2023 auction). The depiction of the affluent as strongly lit figures contrasting against a dark background and often with accoutrement showcasing the sitter’s power, wealth, and knowledge, can most certainly be traced back in part to the Dutch.

(Fig. 1)
Peter Paul Rubens

(Fig. 2)
Benjamin West

(Fig. 3)
Gilbert Stuart

Among the pioneering immigrants to New Amsterdam, Jacob Simonsz De Rycken, a gentleman of wealth and a scion of a prosperous corn merchant family, made a significant mark. He was a close friend of the Prince of Orange and distinguished himself through his military service. In 1638, when he relocated to New Amsterdam, he adopted the name “Riker.” The below portrait by Jan Van Ravesteyn (Lot 644 in our November 17, 2023 auction), descended in the Riker family of New York, displays the immigrant who is straddling the old world and the new. The lace ruff collar, “lit” in contrast to the dark background and in harmony with the face, will soon be replaced by the lace cravat, which can be seen in portraits well into the next century. Case in point of the painting of George Washington (Lot 1132 in our November 18, 2023 auction), a fine copy of Stuart’s Athenaeum portrait of George Washington (Fig. 4), replicates the well lit figure against the dark background.

Landscapes and City Planning
As we study the influence on portraiture, we can also observe the positive impact of Dutch artists like Jacob van Ruisdael on the first generation of artists that became known as the Hudson River School. Not only in art, we see that Dutch settlers also brought with them a culture that profoundly influenced the layout of the streets and neighborhoods. Many of these areas still retain their Dutch names, such as Harlem (Haarlem), Brooklyn (Breukelen), Hells Gate (Helle Gadt), and Riker’s Island. Architecturally, little remains due to various fires in New York City, including the catastrophic Great Fire of New York on December 16, 1835. The below view provides a first hand account of how New York still appeared in the early 19th century. (Lot 1179 in our November 18, 2023 auction). Vast sections of the city were rebuilt after the fire and the old Dutch character from the beginning days were lost to time.

While the fires of the 19th century destroyed all architectural remnants in Lower Manhattan, the legacy of the Dutch in matters of art continues in America.

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