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The Hague School

The Hague School Collage
Started: 1860
Ended: 1890
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So much is certain at least that seeing and studying the great Dutch masters arouse and encourage me to follow nature as a child, and to notice in it all those little ingenuous things and niceties as much as possible and reproduce them faithfully, which are so necessary to constitute a beautiful whole.
Gerard Bilders

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

Overview of The Hague School

The Hague School Photo

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

Gerard Bilders: Koeien bij een plas (Cows at a Puddle) (1856-58)

Koeien bij een plas (Cows at a Puddle) (1856-58)

Artist: Gerard Bilders

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".

Jozef Israëls: Kinderen der zee (Children of the Sea) (1872)

Kinderen der zee (Children of the Sea) (1872)

Artist: Jozef Israëls

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.

Anton Mauve: Morgenrit langs het strand (Morning Ride on the Beach) (1876)

Morgenrit langs het strand (Morning Ride on the Beach) (1876)

Artist: Anton Mauve

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

Content compiled and written by Rebecca Seiferle

Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors

"The Hague School Movement Overview and Analysis". [Internet]. . TheArtStory.org
Content compiled and written by Rebecca Seiferle
Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors
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First published on 21 Sep 2020. Updated and modified regularly
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