This article is one of my ‘lessons learned’. I wrote it for an expat monthly newspaper
called ‘The Underground’ that was just coming out with it’s first edition. A really
The disappointment came when I saw my contribution in print. Without consultation
the article had not only been cut but also changed. There were things there I had
not written. I am used to working with editors and making changes as they desire.
I love to hear opinions and improve my work so it meets their wishes. It only makes
me a better writer. But an article under my name that is changed without any consultation,
that was too much for me. As the editor could not promise me it would not happen
again, I withdrew my future contributions for the Underground newspaper.
Be that as it may, I should have realized this was a new newspaper that might not
have established editing rules. I learned that it is important to agree beforehand
on how the editing process of the article is going to take place.
I still show the article here, together with the text that was supposed to be printed.
I wonder which you like best.
Home is where the art is.
The Hague lays claim to a variety of museums worth visiting, some of which are housed
within former residences, homes that once belonged to prominent Dutch characters
from the past.
One of these museums is ‘The Mesdag Collection’, a highly esteemed assortment of
paintings, drawings, ceramics and Japanese art collected by the renowned painter
and leading figure of The Hague School, Hendrik Willem Mesdag (1831–1915), and his
wife Sientje Mesdag-van Houten. Mesdag is best known for his Panorama of Scheveningen,
a cylindrical painting (cyclorama) of more than fourteen metres high and 40 metres
in diameter, depicting the sea, beaches and village of Schevenigen.
The exhibits are those that Mesdag collected from various contemporary artists and
friends. There are some noteworthy paintings by Dutch artists from The Hague School
such as Anton Mauve and Jacob Israëls. The Hague School is the name given to a group
of artists who lived and worked in The Hague between 1860 and 1890. Their work was
heavily influenced by the realist painters of the French Barbizon School. The Barbizon
School of French landscape painting derived its named from Barbizon village in northern
France, where most of the school’s painters resided. This group of men lead by Theodore
Rousseau rejected the classical landscape style and insisted upon direct study from
nature.The majority of the paintings are from the Barbizon School, the most significant
collection of its kind outside France. Camille Corot and Théodore Rousseau grace
the walls of Mesdag’s treasure trove which was built as an extension to his home
to become his private museum. According to Maite van Dijk, Curator of the Mesdag
Collection; ‘His museum would be open on Sundays for public viewing and he would
organise exhibitions for fellow artists and other members of the general public to
come and view the paintings’.
An artist who was influenced by Hendrik Mesdag and his collection was Vincent van
Gogh. Upstairs there is a temporary exhibition of paintings and also extracts from
van Gogh’s letters with his observations on the Barbizon School. In the correspondence
to his brother Theo, Vincent gives his first impressions on Mesdag’s collection;
‘I recently saw the exhibition of French Art from the collection of Mesdag […] there
are many beautiful things there. […] There is a stillness and calm and peace that
enchants one. I’m glad to have seen all this’.
Mesdag was an industrious character, as besides being a painter and art collector,
he was also an important ambassador for Dutch art. Maite van Dijk explains; ‘Mesdag
was a cultural entrepreneur with many international ties. He was pivotal in the ‘Haagse’
art world and introduced Dutch artists abroad, but also introduced international
artists into The Netherlands such as the Italian artist Mancini.’ Mesdag loved Mancini’s
work and has a number of his paintings on display in the collection.
What sets this museum apart is the original 19th Century setting as well as the private
personal nature of the collection. On entering the space there is an intimacy that
many museums lack. The high ceilings, wooden floors and decorative wall-coverings
offer up a serene 19th century back-drop to Mesdag’s canvases. The paintings seem
to almost welcome the visitor in as a sense of personal warmth is conveyed through
their art. A large canvas by Mancini dominates one of the walls – an impressionist
boy leans onto a table staring out; a young kitchen maid is hard at work looking
bedraggled with her messy apron and unkempt hair. She wears a forlorn expression
on her face, perhaps even wistful, dreaming of a better life. The irony of the piece
is revealed in the title, ‘The Kitchen Princess’; another painting depicts a woman,
possibly ‘Schevenings’, sitting on a dune looking out to sea. Is she waiting for
her beloved to return to her? A moving scene is captured in the form of a man seated
next to his deceased wife. The sad and lonely expression on his face is so poignant
that the 21st century onlooker almost wants to extend out a hand to console him.
These scenes are snapshots of 19th Century characters and their circumstances creating
the impression of peering through a window back in time. Scattered amongst the various
artists are also paintings of Mesdag’s own work. There is an interesting exhibit
called ‘The Sea’ that typifies his passion for seascapes and at the same time is
a study for the Panorama of Scheveningen.
Mesdag’s wife Sientje was also an avid painter and was active within artistic circles
of the time. Not to be missed is Sientje’s portrait of their dog Nero in which she
manages to capture his character with obvious affection. These kinds of personal
touches in the museum create a sense of the Mesdag’s home life.
The Mesdag Collection is a museum that will appeal to those who are interested in
the human condition, moody landscapes, sketchy painting styles and those who want
to be spectators to lively scenes from 19th Century life within the surroundings
of Mesdag’s historical stately home.