One day I hope to visit Paleis het Loo
, Apeldoorn, Netherlands. This is mainly to see the formal gardens rather than the palace and its interiors. I saw a tv programme years ago which detailed the magnificence of the seventeenth-century formal gardens there plus the private gardens of William and Mary, and I was hooked. The gardens are typical of seventeeth-century design on a large scale, but are something the Dutch did exceptionally well. It is unfortunate then, that the Dutch landscape has been stripped of many of its country houses; some 600 of the 6,000 still stand today – a figure of just 10%.
View from south-east of Amstenrade House and gardens. The house still stands, the majority of the present structure dates from the 1780s.
Not surprisingly, over the last couple of years there has been a growing interest in the Dutch country house both here in Britain through the Attingham Trust
as well as in the Netherlands. A handful of seminars and debates have taken place already, and this year marks the collaboration between the Country House Theme Year 2012 Foundation and the Cultural Heritage Agency of the Netherlands
. A bit of a mouthful admittedly, but the latter is eager to promote the Netherlands as a ‘designed country’ and one influenced by water and human manipulation of the landscape. What better stage for the Dutch country house to present itself to a wider audience, as it were?
Since the Dutch Golden Age in the 17th Century, those, who could afford it, fled the malodour of the city during the summer months. In a time span of three centuries over 6000 summer residences appeared all over the country and especially around Amsterdam. Today, some 10% of these historic houses for the summer still survive. This exhibition tells the story of these houses, why they came into existence, how the city dwellers spent their time during summer and how the once spectacular gardens and parks of these houses are maintained and reconstructed today.
Elswout House and Gardens by Jan van der Heyden (image from Enfilade)
The themes of the exhibition concern the rich and influential Dutch bourgeoisie families and their exemplary palatial country houses. Many still exist and often the gardens can be visited. Important exhibits, such as a painting of the country house and gardens of Elswout by Jan van der Heyden (1637-1712) on loan from the Frans Hals Museum, a huge painting of a city garden ‘The courtyard of the Proveniershuis’ (1735) by Vincent Laurensz van der Vinne II (1686-1742) on loan from the Rijksmuseum Twente and a large reverse glass painting of the country house of Soelen by Jonas Zeuner (1727-1814) on loan from the Amsterdam Museum, are on view.
Connected to the exhibition is a new website, which stimulates visiting the gardens and parks of the country houses around Amsterdam, which are open for the public. The exhibition was developed in a unique collaboration between the museum and the three largest conservation organisations of the Dutch countryside, Staatsbosbeheer (state forestry commission), Natuurmonumenten (nature monuments society) and De12Landschappen (the 12 provincial countryside trusts).
The exhibition is open to the public from 11th July until 4th February 2013. The museum is open daily from 11am until 5pm and closed on Tuesdays.
The Courtyard of the Proveniershuis by Vincent Laurenz
The Museum’s website for the exhibition notes how these houses were once the places of entertainment for the urban elite. Now they are publicly accessible green oases in the urban landscape. That alone, prompts me to make the trip!
Links relating to the Dutch country house:
John Dixon Hunt, The Dutch Garden in the Seventeenth Century, Volume 12 DumbartonOaks Colloquium on the History of Landscape Architecture, (1990).
David Jacques and Arend Jan van der Horst, The Gardens of William and Mary, (1988).
Eric Jong, Nature and Art: Dutch Garden and Landscape Architecture, 1650-1740, (2000).
Harriet Margaret Anne Traherne, Summer in a Dutch Country House, (reprint 2011).