A reproduction of the Chadwicks’ famous Genretron will go on public view, for the first time, October 10th at Winkleman Gallery in New York—637 West 27th Street in Chelsea. The jewel of Chadwick Manor, The Genretron is a panoramic model built by the Chadwicks in the nineteenth century for the close study of Dutch landscape painting. Viewing from the central oculus, the Chadwicks used the surrounding diorama to immerse themselves in the physical atmosphere of their favorite landscapists—Hobbema, Ruisdael, Van Goyen, Van der Neer, Van Ostade, and many of the lesser shipwreck artists. This kind of immersion was crucial for their eccentric and little-known treatises on landscape aesthetics and genre painting, like Foreground Floor Debris (which hangs concurrently in the gallery).
Still largely unpublished, this theoretical writing sheds light on the extreme values the family brought to the appreciation of Dutch painting. In one of the latest and most strident of these works—The Onanist Cloud—the Chadwicks wrote of seventeenth-century Dutch art as the definitive moment in which landscape painting “vomited up the tyrant Christian landlords” who had until then “monopolized space with their tired stories.” The effect of these stories in the painting, to the Chadwicks’ way of thinking, had “contorted surrounding bodies into doctrinal registration machines whose gestures bureaucratized time.” For the Chadwicks it was Dutch painting that cleared this situation away, providing “infinite reservoirs of liberatingly mundane sequence”—freed from “managerial psychologies shown ‘absorbing’ heroic narrative messages, or simply undergoing History with a capital H.” The Chadwicks wrote of liberating mundanity not because they sought to avoid the ‘big issues,’ but because they found those issues precisely in art, like Dutch genre painting, that dispersed rather than packaged narrative—opening it to an infinity of paths and itineraries.
Though the Chadwicks hardly need an introduction, still the family is not as well known now as it was from the seventeenth to the nineteenth centuries, when its prominent role both in polite society of London and in greener colonial outposts like New Amsterdam brought family members constantly before the public eye. As eminent connoisseurs, sea captains, naval engineers and amateur historians, the Chadwicks amassed one of the great collections of nautical figurines, genre paintings and difficult-to-attribute manuscripts in Western culture. Held privately at the family estates for several centuries, this material is now finding its way before the long-curious public. This is a process overseen by the conservator J. Blachly and the literary historian Lytle Shaw, editors of the Chadwick Family Archive—principal overseers, also, of the current Genretron reconstruction.