The Hudson-Fulton Celebration, 100 years later


Now, nearly a century after the fireworks and beacons have burned out, the lasting impact of the Hudson-Fulton Celebration continues to enrich life in New York and beyond. One enduring legacy was the founding and strengthening of several cultural institutions. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, established in 1870, was still a small institution struggling to build its collections when it mounted two special loan exhibitions during the celebration. The first, of seventeenth-century Dutch paintings selected to represent Hudson's world, included works from several American collectors, among them Henry Clay Frick, George Jay Gould, and Louisine Waldron Elder Havemeyer. J. P. Morgan (1837-1913) contributed eight paintings and $25,000 in financing to the show. At a time when only a handful of art museums existed in the United States, this display marked an important milestone in the Metropolitan Museum's history and the country's cultural development. It trumpeted the fact that wealthy American connoisseurs had staked their claim to European art, and it emphasized to private collectors the benefits of sharing their art with the public. The exhibition also coincided with the passage of the Payne-Aldrich Tariff Act of 1909, which removed restrictive import duties on fine art, enabling American collectors to bring vast amounts of art into the country and, ultimately, leading to the establishment and enrichment of a number of American museums.
 
The Metropolitan Museum's second exhibition, a display of early American fine and decorative arts from the colonial and early national periods entitled The Hudson-Fulton Exhibition of American Industrial Arts, was the first ever exhibition of its type and also had far-ranging consequences (see Fig. 5). One was the elevation of the "industrial arts," which Americans then understood as objects made using hand tools and simple machines, to the level of art. Another was the 1924 opening of the museum's American Wing, which was a direct result of the exhibition of American arts that was part of the Hudson-Fulton Celebration. The core of the wing's collection was the group of objects that the collector H. Eugene Bolles (1853-1910) had loaned to the exhibition and that Robert Weeks de Forest (1848-1931), then the secretary of the museum and chairman of the celebration's committee on art exhibits, convinced Mrs. Russell Sage (nee Margaret Slocum; 1828-1918) to purchase for the museum.13

It is fitting, then, that the Metropolitan Museum planned the reopening of a major part of its American Wing, which we featured in the May 2009 issue of The Magazine ANTIQUES, to correspond with the centenary of the Hudson-Fulton Exhibition, and that several other New York institutions are mounting exhibitions this year to commemorate the event.

Seventeenth-century Dutch New York is the subject of an exhibition the Bard Graduate Center has organized in conjunction with the New-York Historical Society entitled Dutch New York between East and West: The World of Margrieta van Varick. Born in the Netherlands, Varick (1649-1695) arrived in Flatbush, now Brooklyn, New York, in 1686 and set up a textile shop where she sold an array of European and East Indian goods. Using as its starting point a 1696 inventory of her personal and commercial belongings, the exhibition will explore Dutch colonial and commercial networks, the lives of women in the Dutch colonies, and material culture in New York under Dutch and English rule. The exhibition, organized by Marybeth De Filippis of the New-York Historical Society with Deborah L. Krohn and  Peter N. Miller of the Bard Graduate Center, will be on view at the Bard Graduate Center in New York from September 17, 2009, to January 3, 2010.

Hudson's particular contribution to the development of New York is the focus of an exhibition at the New York Public Library. Inspired by the library's collection of Dutch, English, and early American maps of the Atlantic coastal regions, Mapping New York's Shoreline, 1609-2009 will tell the story of how Hudson's search for a western route to the Orient under the auspices of the Dutch East India Company, the quest that led to his discovery of the Hudson River, laid the foundation for Dutch colonization of the region and the fur trade that prospered there. Contemporary maps will bring the story up to date and explore the growing environmental concern for New York's waterways. The exhibition, which was organized by Alice C. Hudson, chief of the map division, will be on view from September 25, 2009, through June 26, 2010.

The New York State Museum in Albany is also focusing on Hudson with its exhibition 1609, which will examine the explorer's historic voyage, the myths that surround it, and the legacies of his discovery. This show will take a special look at the American Indian experience in the region-what life was like for them before 1609, how they responded to Hudson's arrival, and the long-term legacy of the area's American Indians on American culture today. It will be on view from July 3, 2009 to March 2010.

Two exhibitions focus on the broader Dutch legacy in New York. Amsterdam/New Amsterdam: The Worlds of Henry Hudson, on view through September 27 at the Museum of the City of New York, illuminates the global significance of Hudson's voyage by focusing on the economic, cultural, and ideological connections that ultimately linked Amsterdam and New York. Presented in collaboration with the New Netherland Project, Albany, and the National Maritime Museum Amsterdam, the exhibition uses sixteenth- and seventeenth-century objects, images, and documents from Dutch and American collections to highlight the Dutch role in creating the character of New York as a place of opportunity, tolerance, and constant renewal.

New Amsterdam: The Island at the Center of the World, which will be on view at the South Street Seaport Museum in New York from September 12, 2009, to January 3, 2010, also explores the Dutch origins of American commerce, trade, and tolerance. Among the historical documents, maps, and watercolors included is the sole surviving document of the period that mentions the Dutch purchase of Manhattan from the Lenape for goods worth sixty guilders, or twenty-four dollars. The letter, written in 1626 by Pieter Schagen, an administrator in the Dutch West India Company, is from the Dutch National Archives, which is lending extensively to the show.

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by Émile Jacques Ruhlmann (1879-1933), 1926. Macassar ebony, amaranth, and ivory. Metropolitan Museum of Art. By Cynthia Drayton

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