The Hague School
Once there were two paintings
One colorful and beautiful
And the other simple and honest
* That simplicity and truth are the characteristics
of science and of art.
Well, people cannot understand that.
It was to the tinsel that they gave their favor.
Summary of The Hague School
The Hague School took its name from the coastal city in the Netherlands where a group of Dutch artists lived and worked roughly between 1860 and 1890. Influenced by the landscapes of the Dutch Golden Age and the French Barbizon School, the Hague School reacted against traditional academic painting, putting emphasis on realistic representations rather than idealized or romantic imagery. Painting rural landscapes and scenes of coastal life, their en plein air ("in open air") works emphasized atmosphere and mood while employing a sombre and muted color palette that lead to the group being dubbed the "Gray School". Writing in 1875, the Dutch critic Jan van Santen Kolf wrote, "They have revealed the poetry of grey in a hitherto unprecedented [sic] manner. In that grey atmosphere they find the ideal gradations of tone that they are looking for and we must recognize with admiration that they succeed in rendering what people had no idea of before with a fine sensitivity". A young Vincent van Gogh spent periods of time working and studying with the School that can take credit for leading Dutch art through its evolution into the modern age with the birth of Amsterdam Impressionism.
Key Ideas & Accomplishments
- Before the nineteenth century, the major tendency in art had been to idealize the landscape. The new century saw a shift away from the conventions of Classicism towards a more detailed, more realistic, approach to the landscape. The philosophy of Naturalism became one of the most important trends in nineteenth century art, providing a bridge in fact between academic art and Impressionism. Coming to the fore in the later part of the century, the Hague School artists came as close as any of the Naturalists to replicating the actual experience of standing in meadows and woodlands.
- One of its earliest pioneers, Gerard Bilders brought a further dimension to the School by introducing livestock into his landscapes. Indeed, this became a signifying feature of the School and was realized more fully by the likes of Anton Mauve and Józef Israëls. Later, Willem Maris specialized in animal paintings, even producing a highly regarded "Duck" series that moved away from the grey tones in favor of an expressive, impasto, treatment. This approach earned Maris the mantle of "Hague School Impressionist".
- The School's focus on its locality to the Hague extended to adjoining coastal regions where the beeches and shorelines meet with the North Sea. Artists such as Jacob Maris and Johan Hendrik Weissenbruch expanded the fixed definition of Dutch landscape painting by translating, through oils and watercolors, the distinctive weather and lighting conditions produced where the extended low horizon of the flat sea meets with the expansive sky.
- While the landscape remained the dominant subject in the Hague School's paintings, the group was willing to "move with the times" by recording the changing Dutch landscape as it was being transformed by the building of railways, canals and bridges. It was the Hague School artists who provided the lasting aesthetic and historical record of the Netherland's transition into a modern industrial nation.
- While it invariably reflected the brooding "gray mood" of the Dutch landscapes, the School was willing to accommodate different positions, such as that of Paul Gabriël who proclaimed, "Our country is saturated with colour. I repeat, our country is not grey, not even in grey weather, nor are the dunes grey".
Overview of The Hague School
The masterful and atmospheric oil and watercolor paintings of Jacob Maris reveal, according to the art critic Theophile De Bock, an "intimate acquaintance with colour in all its gradations" and that the "charm they exert" comes from "the nobility and loftiness of spirit ever unconsciously reflected in this great artist's work".
Important Art and Artists of The Hague School
It was through the exhibition of superior landscapes such as Cows at a Puddle that Bilders was able to launch the Hague School in 1860. This meadow landscape, probably painted at Oosterbeek, depicts several cows gathered at a large puddle, two of them standing in water, while three others rest on the grass, their forms huddled in an inverted triangle that creates visual movement between the open horizon and the pond. Framed by copse and shrubbery, as well as a fence overgrown with vines on the right, the scene conveys a mood of tranquil seclusion, enhanced by the grey tonalities. Lit with reflections and shadows cast by the long grasses, the pond in the foreground is more sharply focused than the rest of the soft and hazy image.
This work is an outstanding example of Bilders's preference for "a colored, fragrant warm grey" that captured the light of his native landscape, and in so doing, came very close to conveying the experience of actually standing in the landscape. What Bilders described as van Ruisdael's "landscape as a whole" principle, became fundamental to his own artistic worldview. As he wrote in 1861, "It is not my aim and object to paint a cow for the cow's sake or a tree for the tree's, but by means of the whole - to create a beautiful and huge impression which nature sometimes creates, also with most simple means".
This beach scene shows four children, probably from the same fishing family, as they wade through the shallows of the sea in thrall of a toy boat. Unified in their play, the group conveys a sense of intimacy and familial togetherness. The oldest child carries the youngest piggyback, while another child, carrying a branch, holds onto his hand. A young girl stands to the left of the boat, its tiny white sail unfurled. Here, subtle grey tonalities are enriched with shades of blue, white, and light brown. The ocean's breaking white caps echo in the white head coverings and smocks of the children and in the boat's sail; they are in perfect balance with their natural environment (as the painting's title confirms: "children of the sea").
Though he had an extensive academic art education, Israëls followed the example set by Jean François Millet at the Barbizon School and settled in rural surroundings: in his case a small fishing village near Haarlem. Indeed, Israëls was dubbed "the Dutch Millet" and became a leading artist of what was be called "the second Dutch Golden Age". This painting was one of his favorites, and he described it as "an unicum" (unique example) because, in his words, "few pictures by me, have so many figures, busy in the subject". He was also celebrated for his engravings. As the art historian A. M. Hind wrote, his "few plates of peasant life, strong in line, powerful in chiaroscuro, rank directly with his paintings in the expression of the depths of human feeling, in which he was so worthy a successor of Rembrandt". The Venice Biennale honored Israëls with a retrospective exhibition following his death in 1911. He was a noted influence on van Gogh, and his son, Isaac, inherited his father's mantle as one of the leading next generation Dutch painters.
This painting depicts a group of upper-class equestrians, riding away from the viewer, as their horses meander down a sandy path toward the beach at Scheveningen. Two men, fashionably dressed in top hats, jackets and jodhpurs, flank a woman riding sidesaddle, while another man, similarly dressed, is some distance ahead. Three white bathing cabins, along with a few bathers dressed in blue, are visible on the beach. Though a stylish nonchalance marks the riders and the scene, the art historian M.E. Weiseman noted that "An unconventional detail, horse droppings in the foreground, attests [to Mauve's] commitment to realism". At the same time the treatment is impressionistic; broad expressive brushstrokes creating the shimmer of light on the horses' flanks and on the moving bright haze of a seaside morning. Mauve, with the other Hague School artists, attempted, in Weiseman's words, "to recreate the natural effects of light and atmosphere by depicting not only isolated weather conditions, but also more subtle seasonal variations".
Mauve was married to Vincent van Gogh's cousin, and in 1881 van Gogh moved to The Hague to learn painting from him. Following Mauve's death, van Gogh was to dedicate his Pink Peach Tree in Blossom (Reminiscence of Mauve) (1888), which he described as "Probably the best landscape I have done" to him.
Useful Resources on The Hague School
- Hague School BookBy John Sillevis and Anne Tabak
- Rural Artists Colonies in Europe (1870-1910)By Nina Lübbren
- Dutch Painters of the Nineteenth Century: With Biographical Notices, Volume 3Our PickBy Max Rooses
- The Hague School: Dutch Masters of the 19th CenturyOur PickBy Robakd De Leeuw, John Sillevis, and Charles Dumas
- A Reflection of Holland: The Best of the Hague School in the RijksmuseumBy Renske Suyver