Enveloped in Haussner's art

Michael Kernan

January 22, 1993|By Michael Kernan

A FRIEND of mine who runs a major art gallery in New York said the other day he'd heard there was this amazing restaurant in Baltimore that had paintings all over the walls.

Well, that was easy. It was Haussner's, of course. More than a restaurant, the pride of Eastern Avenue has been a local landmark ever since the late William Henry Haussner -- a newcomer from Bavaria -- founded it 67 years ago. He married another immigrant from Germany, Frances Wilke, in 1935, and Mrs. Haussner, now 83, still drops in at the place every week. She was a pioneer aviatrix, among other things.

But that's another story. What interests me are those 700-plus paintings. Does anyone ever really look at them? I mean really? They cover every conceivable vertical surface in the two huge zTC dining rooms, the stag bar next door and the cavernous museum upstairs. And that's less than three-fourths of the collection.

For half a century the Haussners bought paintings at auctions and from estates, ranging from 3 by 4 inches to an 18,000-square-foot panorama of a World War I parade. That is close to half an acre, and most of it is now in Kansas City. Two small sections, each about 30 feet by 10 feet, remain here.

The staff won't say how much the collection is worth. It is heavily guarded, naturally. In any event, it's not for sale.

But I can tell you I saw in a single pass: a superb Bierstadt of Lake Louise, not the artist's biggest canvas but not small either, and surely worth five or six figures all by itself; a Van Dyck portrait, a Gainsborough and a marvelous 14th century head of St. Dominic.

Some other names that I didn't Haussner's is a cornucopia, so very American in its insistence that quantity is quality that it dazzles.

find but that are among the 409 listed on the menu: Barye, Boucher, Durer, Homer, Inness, Lely, Millet, Hiram Powers, Romney, Rembrandt, Turner and Whistler.

I'm not even going to mention the statues, from the miniature to the heroic, or the cabinets full of vases, Venetian glass, Boehme figurines, cameos, goblets and candelabra, or the long rows of antique Sevres chinaware in nooks too small for paintings, or the ship models, assorted plaques, Roman (copy) portrait busts and Russian Byzantine icons, or the yard-tall beer stein. Nor will we stray for long into the men's bar, decorated by somewhat more pubic nudes, 68 that I counted.

Haussner's is a cornucopia, so very American in its insistence that quantity is quality that it dazzles by its sheer plenty.

Here are colorful Italian peasants flirting; there some Sicilian urchins play a game. Next door, a village celebration, a Dutch girl mooning by the sea, a cradle on the hearth. Across the way are comic bishops sneaking a snootful, blue-eyed girls in white playing with doves, a beauty disrobing for bed. And things to eat: grapes, apples, peaches, game fowl, beefsteak, cheese. And animals: cows, horses, sheep, rabbits, goats, geese, dogs, cats. And schools: Barbizon, Dutch, French, Italian, all of them busily producing landscapes, seascapes, cloudscapes, Venice scenes, Paris scenes, battle scenes, beaches, forests, meadows, pastures, villages, vales, dells and probably swamps, though I couldn't swear to it.

I spotted a George Washington portrait that looked like a Gilbert Stuart until I got close and saw that the nose was wrong. Coming even closer I found that it was by Stuart, all right, but a Jane Stuart.

Along a clerestory are ranged at least a dozen identical-sized oils each showing a slightly different aspect of 19th century Paris boulevards. They look like Alfred Sisley or Childe Hassam but turn out to be by one Edouard Cortes.

It is hard to concentrate in here. I am being stared at by a "September Morn" nude.

Now I seem to be spying on a bunch of funny monks. Look out, here come more peasants. And what's in this glass counter?

"You having dessert, hon?" the waitress asks.

There are 36 of them listed on the menu. "I'll have the chocolate macaroon whipped cream pie."

Who said that? Did I say that? I better get out of here while I can still fit through the door.

Michael Kernan lives not far from Haussner's.

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