Van Cortlandt card table
This gorgeous hunk of mahogany has been in our “Picturing America” colonial portrait gallery since 2001. But only in 2011 did it become mine the Museum’s. Another museum in distress was putting it on the auction block, and with the support of my Director and our trustees, we purchased it in a private sale.
So why did I have to have this particular table? Isn’t there enough of this kind of thing across the river(s) in the Metropolitan’s American Wing? Yes and no.
In 1925, the formidable widow, Sarah Schuyler Van Rensselaer, of Kearny, New Jersey, left us a group of Colonial objects, including this table. In 1931 it was taken away from the Museum by court order because we were not displaying it enough, according to the estate’s executors. It was given to another institution, from whom we borrowed it back for our permanent American art galleries.
In researching this piece again, when it became available for purchase, I realized that the Sarah Van Rensselaer was not the actual heiress of this table; she was the widow of Stephen Van Cortlandt Van Rensselaer of Newark, who died in 1885. He was born in the early nineteenth century in Newark, and the table, made for an ancestor in the 1770s in New York City, had in fact been in Newark since the early 1800s. It is the only known New York Chippendale card table with such a long New Jersey provenance. To most people, this means nothing; but to a curator it is everything.
It makes my heart leap every time I see it.
-By Ulysses Grant Dietz, Chief Curator
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