Boughton and Abbey in the Netherlands 1880
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Flushing, Dordrecht and Haarlem
Boughton and Abbey arrived from London by the Queensborough-to-Flushing route and travelled by train to the north, with the plan to go to North Holland and Friesland. They decided not to go straight to Amsterdam but to break their journey at Haarlem.2, 5
They made sketches all the time: "seldom was the sketch-book out of hand, or the well-sharpened pencil unready".5
On the way to Haarlem they made a short stop at Dordrecht, walked into the inner city and enjoyed the view of quaint gables, high red roofs, and the multitude of ships in the harbour. Close to the Dordrecht's cathedral (Grote Kerk) Boughton and Abbey knocked on a green-painted door. A tidy, smiling dame was willing to show her kitchen, with blue and white tiles, its pots and pans glistening, like burnished gold and silver.
The cleanliness of the houses, the flowers and the orderly, cozy atmosphere is a typical and recurring theme in the travelogues of this time.5-6, 10
"We knocked, and a tidy, smiling dame, speaking never a word, but looking unutterably intelligent and willing, led us through her little De-Hooge-like kitchen, with its blue and white tiles, its pots and pans glistening, like burnished gold and silver, and something uncommonly nice bubbling in a gold-like saucepan on the fire. We looked so long and admiringly on this unexpected picture that the good woman must have thought us famished: it could not have been ready, that bubbling, fragrant stew, or I feel sure she would have offered us some there and then. There was a large, fluffy, comfortable cat curled up on a cushion on the easy-chair: evidently the church mice were not so poor, nor scarce, either. A large, open Bible with opulent silver clasps was on a small table, and near it a gray-and-blue mug filled with pale-yellow chrysanthemums. It was a wonder that we tore ourselves away from this simple little ditty in color to the 'frozen music' of the cathedral interior beyond."10
Once they had arrived in Haarlem Boughton and Abbey found comfortable accommodation in Hotel Fünckler. They explored the city and made sketches, which attracted a lot of attention from the local people, almost annoyingly. The bystanders were calmly staring, while eating something or smoking. "You will not have time to get a dozen lines in your book before you feel some one breathing almost in your ear."14
Strolling across the surrounding countryside they discovered to their surprise, that Dutch women did a number of masculine tasks such as potato digging, sack-filling and handling the rope on a pull-boat.20-21
They realized that modern times were coming to Holland as well. Whenever they got a chance Dutchmen were pulling down old ramparts and town walls to new way for boulevards and railway stations.22
The Haarlem cathedral (St. Bavo Church) was also visited, and, last but not least, they admired the glorious magistral works of Frans Hals in the local museum.25
Amsterdam and surroundings
According to Boughton Amsterdam is an enterprising and commercially prosperous town, with beautiful architecture which is nevertheless surpassed by fine old buildings in some smaller cities like Middelburg, Veere, Dordrecht, Leyden and Utrecht. The real pride of Amsterdam lies in her public and private art collections.
It is definitely a city of fine arts. The whole atmosphere is filled with art and dominated by Rembrandt's fame. The present little museum of Amsterdam appears to be a sixteenth century building with genuine examples of Dutch furniture. They also saw the famous picture collection in the Burgomaster Six house, however, without precisely knowing who this person was.27-28, 32
Down about the docks they studied the fisher folk in the traditional costumes, which had not changed much in appearance during the last two hundred years.36-37
Amsterdam was an easy starting point for trips to smaller towns in the environment, such as Zaandam, Broek en Volendam, but Boughton warns his readers for the emptiness of most of these touristic places. What really is worth seeing is the things in which Holland excels such as dairies, farming, stock-raising, windmill management, hydraulic engineering, etcetera.40
Before leaving for Zaandam they came in contact with Jacob, who offered to be their local guide. He was "a stoutish middle-aged man" with a good sense of humor and the air of efficiency. Boughton also typifies him by carefully transcribing his bad pronunciation of English.56
After a short walk through devious streets and over little bridges, they reached the goal of many historical pilgrimages, the Czar Peter House. Here Czar Peter I of Russia resided during his stay in the Netherlands in 1697, when he studied ship building.46-47
They were of the opinion that Zaandam was an important place, with a lot of shipping and numerous windmills. Certainly not the place to be for a dreamy person, who is fond of quitness and rest. "The inhabitants are fearfully rich", and the guide told them, that all these rich people were windmillers.50
Broek in Waterland and Marken
On their way to Marken they passed the village of Broek, which had been known for centuries for its cleanliness. Like the Dutch people themselves Boughton and Abbey were well aware of the exaggerated notoriety of this quaint, little place, which "had gone to sleep, but not in a healthy way". Broek has a certain prestige and is well worth stopping to see, if one happens to be passing by, but it is scarcely worth going on purpose to see, was their conclusion.62
Boughton and Abbey were somewhat taken aback by the view of Marken, the form and color of the houses and the appearance of its population."There was a sturdy, independent, and rather a defiant air ― not in any way aggressive, however ― about them". As elsewhere sketching by Boughton and Abbey attracted a lot of attention of the inhabitants, even in a slightly annoying way.67
They came inside a few houses and admired the clean interior "fully up to the Broek standard"; with lots of blue-and-white china and old Delft-ware on dressers and decorating the walls. The lovers of bric-a-brac would feel themselves at home in this remote haven". Blue-and-white china and old Delft-ware on dressers, brass warming-pans on the wall, brazen candlesticks and lanterns neatly polished like gold, spotless curtains in white and blue and red-tiled floors.77
They observed as remarkable, that alcohol consumption on Marken was moderate, nearly all men were teetotalers and others did not drink too much. The principal drink of the people is weak coffee and tea, in rather large quantities. The only vice was smoking. Crime seemed to be quite unknown in this highly religious community.78
The north-east: Leeuwarden and Zwolle
On the way to Friesland by boat over the Zuyderzee Boughton and Abbey passed the locks of Schellingwoude (the 'Oranjesluizen'). They were greatly impressed by these splendid examples of Dutch engineering skill.93
The refreshment room of the Leeuwarden railway station was a disappointment. It was roomy, bright and clean, but the food was awful, pappy buns with unappetizing slices of sausage, cheese or sweet stuff. Therefore, they were happy to be received in the cozy rooms of the Doelen Hotel, with a good dinner even that very week's Punch, Graphic, and Illustrated News.98-99
Leeuwarden was not one of the so-called "dead cities of the Zuider Zee", but a lively town with modern shops, but also with contrasts of poor neighborhoods, swarming with children and with lines of clothes stretched between the windows of houses. The streets were generally wide and well paved, but had not much impressive architecture. The costumes were not remarkable, except in respect of the golden head-gear of the women. Antique items turned out not to be so valuable, but expensive and offered at fancy prices. As elsewhere in Holland good old Delft ware was most pricey. Women were handsome, and men fine, sturdy, frank, kindly fellows, according to their summarized view of Friesland's capital.104-108
The authors travelled by train to Zwolle, where they found the church very vast, whited and dampish. "There were some good old pews, and a rather fine pulpit." Next stop was the museum of antiquities, which seemed to have got not so many visitors. It was managed by an old lady, who kept the place painfully clean, but did not contain any impressive objects.130-131
They went back to Amsterdam, "spoiled for this land of propriety and plenty by ... previous revel in the glowing quaintness of the Isle of Marken", and planned to go north, to Alkmaar, via the Noord-Hollands Kanaal. This was not as fast as by train, but much more picturesque.133
The farther north they went the more their attention was drawn to the swirling ornaments of farm-houses. The gables were fashioned in most fantastic shapes of curve and scroll, and their general impression of riotous lines meandering about them was further enhanced by startling effects of painting and gilding. Everything was clean and well-kept, with many flowers, flaxen-haired children and blue-eyed girls, lots of ducks and geese, and any number of cats. They also noticed the prevalence of female labor.141
In Alkmaar they found a simple inn for the night, "pathetic little snuggery had rather a charm about it". Everything here was as brilliantly polished. They arrived the day before the weekly cheese market. Boughton and Abbey thought the town anything but a dead city; it was the principal market-town for butter and cheese in North-Holland and that was noticeable. Of course, they visited the weekly market and admired the Waag, "the great weighinghouse for the cheese and butter, built in the liberal and florid time of the early sixteenth century".143-144
"The very architecture of the building is the most fat and riotous in the way of scrolls and figures and carved tablets that one could well find even in North Holland. The old houses around the "Scale-house" were mostly of the same period, and all more or less elaborate in varied brickwork and stone carvings. The old shops seemed to have the same way of displaying their wares that they had in the Middle Ages".146
Their attention was drawn to the gingerbread figures in the bakery shop somewhere down the canal, in particular by by the curious designs of these specimens of an age old bakery craft. "Great effigies in every shade of golden brown, in every genre of the art; historical portraits, animal, domestic, and marine subjects."146-147
Boughton gives us a a lively description of the cheese market:
"The very air seemed teeming with cheeses. They looked like great golden apples, or, rather, like something between a very large apple and a small pumpkin. They are very elastic and slippery too, when new, and these were all very new, and evidently suffering from nervous excitement, judging from the state of 'quiver' they all seemed to be in. The market-place was filled with great, high wagon-loads of them, and frantic peasants tossing them down to the porters, who were 'shying' them madly about here and there, to and fro, until it looked like some insane jugglery practice".
"The porters are a race apart. It is no small job to carry about three or four hundredweight of dodgy and elusive balls, ― piled up on a hand-barrow, without spilling them. The porters have a curious, scuffling, shambling way of gliding over the ground. The arms are outspread, partly for balance, partly to ward off colliders. Every scale in the weigh-house is painted some distinguishing color, or arrangement of colors, and each set of porters has painted hats and badges of the corresponding tint; and as there are many scales, so does it come to pass that the whole scene looks like a wild revel of all the most positive and crude colors out of the rainbow. The barrow is slung across the shoulders by straps, and, as they do not touch their hands to it to steady it, the slightest concussion is enough to bring down the slippery pyramid with a run".152
The hotel owner was kind enough to drive Boughton and Abbey in his own carriage to Hoorn. During the ride they enjoyed the view of poplar trees on the road side, the well-kept farms and the prim little villages.
They were happy to find a comfortable place to stay at the Doelen Hotel, a nice old building with an impressive interior. In the parlor they witnessed a demonstration of Dutch cleanliness; a maid was polishing a small table so fanatically that her boss had to remind her to stop.158-160
"The house, or, rather, mansion, had evidently been something better than an inn when it was first built. There were wide stairways of oak, carved oak hand-rails, panelled wainscots and elaborate ceilings, and brass sconces and lanterns and brackets, that shone like gold. The oaken doors were polished like ebony and black with age."159
This town appealed to them. "Hoorn is simply a jewel of a place". It seemed to have grown old and poor in a calm and dignified way. It was still prim and starched and scrupulously clean. They also appreciated the historical atmosphere.160
In Hoorn their sketching attracted the attention of people, in this case a complete drawing class. The boys gave positive and negative comments on their art work, which ended tiresome and unenjoyable.165
When they rumbled along the silent streets of Edam they appreciated the beautiful old church, and noticed many traces of former prosperity, and even a certain amount of civic grandeur, but also unmistakable decay.
"There was a long row of deserted houses bordering the seldom-stirred waters of the placid canal, their windows long since knocked in, and no one to care. The once well-clipped trees had taken their natural course again, untrimmed to regulation forms." They decided to let bygones be bygones, and go on to Vollendam.169-170
Volendam was no dead and- gone place by any means. Not large, one long street, with vividly painted fishermen's habitations on either of the way and fairly swarming with people.
"It was the most opulent-looking crowd one could well imagine. The men were all dressed after a general type, and the old men the same as the young, except in the shape of head-gear. The small boy was but a miniature of the grown man. They were all as busy as could be, eating small, hard apples, or small, hard nuts. On the wooden platform in front of nearly every house were great baskets of nuts or apples: one could hardly see how trade could go on with profit, as they were all sellers and consumers."173
A man invited them inside his house, an offer that they gladly accepted. They were followed by a crowd, "half the entire population". After being kindly received they admired the Sunday and everyday costumes. During all this time the crowd outside was talking and screaming deafeningly.174
Boughton and Abbey arrived at Purmerend on the last day of the fair (the kermesse). It turned out to be a noisy night, with a lot of music, dancing and drinking, cheerfulness they had to listen to but in which they did not participate.177
From Purmerend they traveled via Amsterdam to The Hague, where Scheveningen was their main attraction. They admired the old-fashoned dress of the ladies, looked through a shop window and saw "a pair of bonny fish-girls buying eau-de-Cologne", and walked to the beach.
"Down by the whity-brown fringe of the gray sea lies a lusty fleet of broad-beamed, brown-sailed fishing craft. Some were being hauled on shore; horses were pulling, windlasses were dragging, men were shouting, women and children were running here and there, carts of fish were careering about. It was as lively and breezy a sight as one wrould wish to see." ... "No part of Holland can be called a quiet sketching-ground, and here it is worse than elsewhere."181
Because their time was growing brief, they hastened to reach Zeeland and took the train to Middelburg.
The sight of quaint old streets filled with velvet-clad and silver-buttoned people was a pleasant surprise ― and last but not least the great old market square with the grand old town-hall of the fifteenth century, an architecture like of which they had not yet seen in Holland. Because they arrived late in the afternoon, there was only time for not more than a glimse of the abbey.182
The last stop before their return journey was Veere. They walked to the townhall and entered; the interior delighted them beyond anything they had seen so far.
The luncheon was at the hotel of the watch tower (the Kamperveerse toren), which they found "so picturesque and suggestive that we asked about accommodations in case of wishing to come and stay for a few days". The landlady responded negatively to this request, she told their local guide Jacob that "she didn't like strangers".186
The daughter of the house was completely in Zeeland costume; Boughton and Abbey tried to get her to part with a dress or two, but she refused. Thanks to her mediation, however, they did get the chance to attend a small 'fashion show' with a befriended family outside the town. The ladies there were willing to show their clothing collection extensively. The girls "showed us how the caps and the gold corkscrews went on, and, finally, the affair became a sort of full-dress rehearsal of effects of costume". Moreover, they were allowed to buy some clothes at a very reasonable price.187-188
"The first sight of Veere was its great, gaunt church, half of it tumbled away, but a small piece, about as big as half Westminster Abbey, still standing. It was a barrack not many years ago, but was not a success. And as the bit now in actual use is not a tenth part of it, it looks rather a dreary mass of ruin. The streets were silent, and the tenanted houses few; the closed houses far too many, some of them most charming examples of fifteenth and sixteenth century architecture, notably the remains of the 'Scottish' house, so called because it was built for some merchant here, during the once-flourishing Scotch trade."185
Unfortunately, a suddenly emerging illness hastened their departure. They had to leave Middelburg abruptly and took the boat back from Flushing to England, making plans for a return within not too long a time.188
Boughton, G.H. (1885) Sketching rambles in Holland. With illustrations by the author and Edwin A. Abbey. New York: Harper & Brothers.
- Endnotes will appear here