In the nineteenth century people still lived by the seasons. Whether it was summertime or wintertime did not matter, many people simply had to work outside whatever the weather. Between 1860 and 1900 artists like Jozef Israels, Jacob and Willem Maris, Hendrik Willem Mesdag, Jan Hendrik Weissenbruch and Anton Mauve recorded with unparalleled skill what they saw in and around The Hague. Each of them masterfully captured the light and atmosphere, creating images that feature extraordinary interactions between light, sky and water. Their subjects were typical of the western Netherlands: barges, cows, river landscapes, scenes of fishing life and the emerging bathing culture. It is partly thanks to these artists that we still have an impression of these times. The Gemeentemuseum houses a large collection of work by the Hague School, and it will be showing the highlights from 29 June.
In the mid-nineteenth century The Hague had a flourishing art scene and beautiful surroundings. It was therefore a good place for artists to settle. The painters of the Hague School brought about an important innovation in Dutch painting. They were no longer happy to idealise their landscapes as their mentors had done. Instead, they decided to paint a realistic picture of the natural environment, recording elements of the landscape that would soon disappear, such as windmills and horse-drawn barges. Their paintings document their age, but they also still define the image of our country.
Their decision to depict things realistically was not the only innovative thing about their art, however. The way they worked was also different. In imitation of the French painters of the Barbizon School, who worked in the open air around the forests of Fontainebleau, they went outside to work ‘en plein air’. It was easier for artists to do so by then, as paint was now available ready-made in tubes. There was a downside sometimes, however. Constant Gabriel is for instance said to have gone deaf from working outdoors in bad weather. Back at the studio the studies that the painters made outdoors were developed into their instantly recognisable paintings in shades of grey, with huge skies and light reflected on the water. This summer, the most important works in the collection will be on show in Highlights of the Hague School. Examples include Fishing Boat (1878) by Jacob Maris, The Trekvliet (1870) by Jan Hendrik Weissenbruch, Vegetable Gardens near The Hague (c. 1878) by Jacob Maris and Cows in the Reeds (c. 1890) by Willem Maris.
The Hague School collection occupies an important place at Gemeentemuseum Den Haag, which this autumn will change its name to Kunstmuseum Den Haag. A number of artists from the group were instrumental in the founding of the museum. In 1866 a special association – the ‘Vereniging tot het oprigten van een Museum van Moderne Kunst te ’s-Gravenhage – was set up to establish a museum of contemporary art in The Hague. This initiative – which is better reflected in the new name – laid the foundations for the museum. Some of the Hague School painters were members of the association, and many of the highlights in the collection were purchased from them back in the mid-nineteenth century, during the lifetime of the artists.