Dutch And Flemish Furniture
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
As the English colonists influenced the furniture makers who supplied them with chairs and other necessaries for their new homes, and sought to obtain replicas of English furniture, so the Dutch settlers aimed at securing replicas of their own peculiar styles.
The houses of Holland, with their wonderful carving, were impressed upon the minds of Dutch and Flemish settlers, and if they could not reproduce those marvellous houses in their entirety they could at least make themselves furniture in keeping with their traditional prejudices and preferences.
It is said that for years after the English occupation of New Amsterdam the inhabitants of Dutch extraction clung to the use of furniture which showed strong Dutch characteristics. They also cultivated a taste for furniture imported from the Indies. In districts where the Dutch were the chief settlers the houses they built were suggested by those with which the first Dutch settlers had been familiar. They had low ceilings and wide and roomy chimney corners in which they continued to use the older fashioned early colonial furniture. In some cases they had the actual beds which had served their forefathers in their native land. It has indeed been truly pointed out that the commercial methods and religious views of Holland were reflected in the homes of the American settlers during the seventeenth century.
It will be remembered that there was then much trade and commerce carried on by Dutch traders, who were safe in the protection their warships afforded them when on the High Seas. At that time the settlers on the Hudson River had access to the wealth and merchandise of Spain and Italy, where so much beautiful furniture was being made during the heyday of the craftsmanship which the great Renaissance of a century or so before had given them.
Holland and England were then trading, and their settlers came in for a fair share of the spoil. Curiously enough, although Flemish chests were made and shipped to many lands, there do not appear to have been many in use in New Amsterdam ; possibly they were not found altogether the most desirable pieces of furniture for colonial purposes.
Much as the Dutch trade and influence was exerted over the furniture used and made in America during the seventeenth century, it increased at the close of that century, and gained in strength during the early years of the eighteenth century. When we come to enquire care-fully into the actual pieces of furniture in which that influence is strongest, we begin to understand what an American home was like. The chests which were built as serviceable store-chests and for transport were not usually carved and panelled like those replicas made under English influence ; early inventories in New York refer to the Dutch chests being made of pine, and often painted. There is a bill of lading extant dated 1711, which refers to an early kas or chest packed with fine linen which was sent over from Holland by the father of Dr Samuel Johnson.
The Dutch chests from 1680 onwards began to assume the form of a chest of drawers just as they did in the old country in the seventeenth century. Nathaniel Hawthorne, writing in reference to the developed chests of his day, says " The moderns have invented nothing better in chamber furniture than those chests, which stand on four slender legs and send an absolute tower of mahogany to the ceiling ; the whole terminating in a fantastically carved summit." High chests were fairly common in New York from 1685 onward, and they were plentiful in New England. An age of luxury was coming, and those who had been accustomed to the plainest of early colonial furniture were anxious to obtain more elaborate and ornamental house furnishings. They were divided in their choice between those which were influenced by the cabinet work of Holland and the Eastern furniture, especially cabinets and chairs, which were coming to New Amsterdam in Dutch vessels. It is said that alcove beds, common in Holland and Germany early in the eighteenth century, came into Pennsylvania. The American cabinet-maker was even then becoming a specialist and producing the furniture the people craved for, imparting to it American characteristics. A trader named William Atlee advertised in the eighteenth century " Any person willing to have a bed-stand in an alcove, which is both warm and handsome, may have the same hung in the most elegant manner, customary in the best houses in England." Dutch artists in a similar way undertook to produce furniture in accord with the views of Dutch settlers.