Louisa Wood Ruby will give a Brown Bag Lunch presentation on Monday, March 21 at 12:15 pm. Her talk is entitled “Colonial Dutch ‘She-Merchants’ as Collectors.”

Due to their unique legal status in the colonies, the women of New Netherland and their New York descendants had the right to buy, sell, and trade any kind of goods of their own accord, a liberty that remained in place well into the eighteenth century. Women who took advantage of this freedom were even referred to in documents as “she-merchants.” Inventories of wealthy women from the New Netherland/New York region from 1650-1750 indicate that they often owned quite a number of works of art. As part of the growing interest in the role of women in the history of collecting, this lecture will address the collecting habits of Dutch seventeenth century “she-merchants” in New Netherland and their New York descendants. Using inventories along with extant documents and letters, it will explore the lives of these women, how important art may have been to them, how they obtained it, whether they sold it, and if possible, what remains today of their collections.


Louisa Wood Ruby is a visiting fellow at BGC this spring. She is head of research at the Frick Art Reference Library where she has been in charge of the Center for the History of Collecting, the Digital Art History Lab, and the Scholars’ Program. A specialist in Dutch and Flemish art, she has published a catalogue raisonné of the drawings of Paul Bril; numerous articles in journals such as Master Drawings, Burlington Magazine, and the Journal of Historians of Netherlandish Art; and contributed essays to several symposia proceedings and festschrifts. Her interest in the art collections of the early Dutch in New Netherlands/New York emerged in 2008 with her article “Dutch Art and the Hudson Valley Patroon Painters” published in Joyce Goodfriend’s volume Going Dutch: The Dutch Presence in America 1609–2009 and continued in 2014 with her essay, “Pictures Painted Chiefly in Oils, on Boards: Collecting Dutch Art in Colonial New York,” in the Frick Collection Studies in the History of Art Collecting in America, volume 1: Holland’s Golden Age in America: Collecting the Art of Rembrandt, Vermeer, and Hals. In 2019–20, she co-curated and wrote the catalogue for the exhibition Jan Brueghel the Elder: A Magnificent Draughtsman, held at the Snijders & Rockoxhuis museum in Antwerp. Most recently, she contributed “A Family Affair: Bruegel and Sons in America,” to the Frick’s publication, America and the Art of Flanders: Collecting Paintings by Rubens, Van Dyck, and Their Circles, and “Provenance Initiatives Emerging within the Digital Humanities,” for the book, Provenance Research Today: Principles, Practice, Problems, published by Lund Humphries.


This event will be held via Zoom. A link will be circulated to registrants by 10 am on the day of the event. This event will be live with automatic captions.