Holland is cool. Everywhere there are Delft blue bicycle bags, shower curtains and other sorts of bits and bobs. The museum owns a chess set with the typical Dutch milkmaids, step-gables and tulips. Americans are especially fond of this game and with reason.

We love Holland! chess set

We love Holland! chess set

Looking for a role model
In 1776 the United States declared their independence from the English motherland. In the century to follow British culture would still be the dominant one, although the US slowly got more confident about their own strength. They got more appreciation for their own art, architecture and literature.

With the 100 year anniversary of the US just around the corner, the Americans wanted to culturally separate themselves from the Brits. They went and looked for other roots. Digging deep into their history they found their equal in the Netherlands. Lookswise they were much the same –white and mainly protestant- and they both had democratic governments. Specifically the seventeenth century was very popular: the Dutch Republic had been able to free itself of the Spanish occupier and subsequently developed itself into one of the great economic powers of that age.

The Americans were eager to take a leaf out of the Dutch book and they believed in their future as a new world power. The fact that the Netherlands had lost their economic and politic influence by the end of the nineteenth century was also attractive to the Americans. They would have nothing to fear of the Netherlands in that respect, contrary to the English former motherland. What’s more, we had never been in war with the Americans, as opposed to Great-Britain.

Colonies in Katwijk
Anything that had something to do with the Netherlands became popular. Americans with a Dutch surname could use it to their advantage. They formed powerful communities and the older the Dutch roots, the better. This went all the way back to 1620, when the first group of colonists, the Pilgrim Fathers, reached the USA. In the twelve years previous to their cross Atlantic journey, the English religious refugees had lived in Leiden. They exported the city’s ideas about tolerance and religious freedom that would be eventually become very popular.

The rich nineteenth century Americans travelled en masse to the country that was so admired by them. While there, they would buy a lot of the cultural heritage of the penniless Netherlands. Many paintings by Rembrandt, Vermeer, Van Gogh and other Dutch master painters made it across the Atlantic and are still on display in American museums. Apart from the rich, artists would travel to the Netherlands as well, searching for the distinctive light and landscapes from the Golden Age. However, because of the Industrial Revolution the Netherlands had changed a lot. The artists therefore founded colonies in places where time had seemed to stand still, like in Katwijk and the Veluwe area. They painted women in regional dress and the typical Dutch sea and clouds. Their work in the style of the seventeenth century painters sold like hot cakes back home in the USA.

Hans BrinkerHansje Brinker
In literature, the use of ‘typical’ Dutch character traits such as reliability, modesty and courage was widespread. In 1865, American writer Maria Mapes Dogde published her book ‘Hans Brinker or the silver skates’. This is the tale of a boy that puts his finger in a hole in a dyke to prevent a flood. The book was a big hit and American tourists were eager to visit the scene of disaster. This didn’t exist though, so just to please the tourists, the Dutch Tourist Information Bureau placed a sculpture of ‘Hans Brinker’ in the city of Spaarndam in 1950.

By Marjolein Overmeer