Van Rensselaer Manor

From the year 1630 until well into the nineteenth century the Van Rensselaer family were lords of the manor of Rensselaerwyck, a vast fiefdom in upstate New York, around Albany. Killian Van Rensselaer had acquired the land from the Dutch West India Company ten years after the Mayflower landed and it remained in the family through successive Dutch, English, and American governments. I described the later years of the manor at length in my biography of James Fenimore Cooper, a friend of the family.

The manor house was dismantled in the 1890s and rebuilt as the Sigma Phi fraternity house, called Van Rensselaer Hall, at Williams College in Massachusetts. Unfortunately it was torn down by the college in the 1970s. The only surviving fragments of the house were interiors donated to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The wallpaper of the great hall has been used to reconstruct the room in the American Wing. On a recent visit to the museum I took the opportunity to photograph the furnishings in detail.

Golden Fleece Forever

It was bad news last July when the iconic American mens fashion house Brooks Brothers filed for bankruptcy. Founded in 1818, Brooks Brothers is the oldest clothing company in the country, having passed its two hundredth anniversary. The brand was quickly bought by joint investors Authentic Brands Group and Simon Property Group for $325 million in August. This was inevitable. The label is too valuable to abandon. But that label could be stuck on anything, and previous corporate owners have produced clothing lines with little reference to the classic Brooks Brothers style.

So when the new creative director Michael Bastian announced his plans for the company’s future it came as a welcome overture. He writes at Instagram, “Where to begin? Easy—go back to the fundamental icons of the brand and of course that starts with the original #ocbd the #og the icon worn by icons.”

He describes trying on an Oxford shirt “from the archives from the 80s,” writing,

it was like seeing an old friend. The weight and density of the fabric, the famous collar roll, the precise button placement and the roomy fit (that feels so right again after years of overly skinny shirts), and of course the exact perfect pink that no one got 100% right but Brooks Brothers. It’s all coming back—we’ve set up the fashion equivalent of a forensics lab to study and measure and get this shirt back to its true original glory.

Greenwich Village Gothic

Grace Episcopal Church on the corner of Broadway and Tenth Street in Manhattan is the most important early example of Gothic Revival architecture in New York. I posted a picture of the beautiful courtyard in an earlier post. The architect was James Renwick, Jr., who went on to design the Smithsonian Institution in Washington. He was only twenty-four years old when he undertook the design of Grace Church.

It was constructed between 1846 and 1847 when wealthy New Yorkers were moving north into Greenwich Village from the crowded Downtown. Nevertheless the parish had a limited budget. While the edifice itself is marble, the spire was initially wooden, and much of the interior is lathe and plaster. A marble spire was added in 1881.

The church is a landmark of the Village. During its heyday its congregation comprised fashionable society. As Matthew Hale Smith wrote in 1869, “To be married or buried within its walls has been ever considered the height of felicity.”

Henry James at the Morgan

Pictured below: the guestbook of the Morgan Library from 1911. The novelist Henry James visited on January 18 of that year. His signature appears fourth from the bottom. I photographed this page a few years ago during the exhibition of Henry James and American Painting which I reviewed at the time.

Greenwich Village in Winter

Henry James described New York City as, “in certain lights almost charming.” Below: his and my old stamping ground in Greenwich Village after the snow. One of these terraced houses along Washington Square was the setting for James’s 1880 novel of the same name. 

A few blocks northeast, the Narnia-esque churchyard of Grace Episcopal Church opens onto Broadway. The black urn is an ancient Greco-Roman artifact.

The Headless Horseman Bridge

Over a deep part of the stream, not far from the church, was formerly thrown a wooden bridge; the road that led to it, and the bridge itself, were thickly shaded by over-hanging trees, which cast a gloom about it even in the day time, but occasioned a fearful darkness at night. Such was one of the favourite haunts of the headless horseman, and the place where he was most frequently encountered.

—Washington Irving, “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.”

See also: At the Old Dutch Church in Sleepy Hollow.

At the Old Dutch Church in Sleepy Hollow

This year is the bicentennial of Washington Irving’s “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.” The story first appeared in The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, which was published in serial between 1819 and 1820.

To mark the occasion, I attended a dramatic reading of the story at The Old Dutch Church in Sleepy Hollow, New York. The church itself features prominently in the story. It was an old feature on the landscape when Irving lived nearby in Tarrytown. Built in 1685 by Frederick Philipse, the Lord of Philipse Manor, whose vast patroonship extended south all the way to Spuyten Duyvil in the Bronx, the building is still owned by the Dutch Reformed parish in Tarrytown.

Prosperine at Auction

Two very important Pre-Raphaelite paintings go up for auction at Christie’s in New York later this month. An 1878 version of Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s Prosperine and John William Waterhouse’s The Soul of the Rose will be offered at European Art Part I on October 28.

I have written about the models Jane Morris and Muriel Foster who are depicted in the paintings on this blog and in my book Victoriana.

Both works are expected to sell for between three and five million dollars—a far cry from mere decades ago, when the Pre-Raphaelites were out of favor, and David Lloyd Webber saw Leighton’s Flaming June for sale in a London shop for £50.

London Windows in New York

The London glaziers firm James Powell and Sons of Whitefriars, commonly called Whitefriars Glass, produced windows for Anglican churches on both sides of the Atlantic during the interwar period. James Humphries Hogan, who was chief designer at the time, devised windows for the cathedrals of Hereford, Rochester, Exeter, Carlisle and Winchester.

In the 1920s Hogan traveled extensively in the United States, setting up a satellite office in New York. Among other commissions, he designed windows for Saint Thomas Episcopal Church on Fifth Avenue, arguably the finest stained glass in the city. These windows recently underwent complete restoration from the lead cames to the nine million individual pieces of glass.

An example below features the Powell and Sons “white friar” maker’s mark.