Dutch Art: Reflections of
a Golden Age
On view through August 14
Ella Walton Richardson Fine Art Gallery
91 Broad St., 722-3660

Whether the Ella Walton Richardson Fine Art Gallery succeeds or fails is a question of taste — its namesake owner’s taste, to be exact. “I show what I personally love,” Richardson says, and for the past couple of years she’s been betting that enough collectors share her penchant for refined, detailed, non-regional art to keep the gallery running.

Some prints from high-profile artists have helped to even the odds. Last year the gallery showed graphic works by Picasso, Marc Chagall, and Pierre-Auguste Renoir. This year, original Joan Miro prints graced her ground floor. But recently, Richardson’s main focus has been on work by living Dutch painters.

It’s unusual to see the work of strictly overseas-based artists championed by downtown fine art gallery owners, who understandably tend to concentrate on their own work (as in the Margaret Petterson and Pink House Galleries) or that of other locals, catering to collectors who come to the Lowcountry for regional art. Nina Liu and Charles II Art Gallery are rare exceptions, representing Russian and South American artists among more parochial fare, but Richardson has cornered the market in European originals.

That’s not to say she’s sticking her neck out. Her selection of oil paintings are ever so slightly different, but not so exotic that they’ll put off dyed-in-the-wool French Quarter collectors. Her new exhibition, Dutch Art: Reflections of a Golden Age, is a good example, featuring land and seascapes with a familiar edge for Charlestonians. Only the windmills, cottage-y buildings, and cold grey skies betray their Netherland settings.

The star of the show is Frits Goosen, whose work takes up the bulk of wallspace and justifies the show’s gilt-edged title. Although most of his subjects are modern, there’s a nostalgic edge to his landscapes. Take the windmill out of “Willemstad” and he could be depicting any 19th-century port around the world. Granted, a missing windmill would mess up his perfect symmetry, with the sails aligned with boat masts and quaint rooftops, and strong imagery — the sails are resting in a crucifix position.

Goosen uses muted, rustic colors — there’s a heap of green, brown, and subtle white — that gently draws the eye to different objects in his paintings. The most colorful pieces (“Terschelling,” “Yvoire”) are more coastal scenes that pop in red dwellings to break up the pale blue water and sky.

Goosen sets a high standard that’s met by Niek van der Plas, who provides lively seashore vignettes like “Beach Pleasure II.” The thread of nostalgia winds through this work, too, as van der Plas captures the joyful abandon of childhood. His subjects seem spontaneous in their play, yet there’s still a careful adherence to classical composition (the children are lined up diagonally with a yacht behind them). “Restaurant Interior” is another example of his loose realism, highlighting the establishment’s sumptuous trimmings.

This ties van der Plas’ work in with other pieces in the gallery, including California resident Lindsay Goodwin’s palatial interiors, recreating period tones in paintings like “Evening at the Palace.” The level of work stays strong throughout the gallery, but it’s the great sense of themic continuity that makes the place a pleasure to visit. Nautical images are juxtaposed with seaside figurative work, complementing sculptures such as Marianne Houtkamp’s “Water Girl.” This piece has a liquid flow that belies its bronze material, leaping from its stand with a dolphin’s grace, and Houtkamp’s use of negative space beneath the figure helps to provide a sense of momentum.

Without losing the Dutch touch, Richardson will continue to develop her roster of represented artists, showing work by Chinese native Jove Wang and Russian Impressionists Aleksander and Lyuba Titovets. By looking beyond the U.S. for some of her best wares, Richardson has succeeded in attracting a niche of collectors who are seeking something new or grand, yet reassuringly familiar. Whether they actually spend their money here is, of course, a matter of taste.

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