The Hague School is 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 painters of the Hague school generally made use of relatively somber colors, which is why the Hague School is sometimes called the Gray School.
The name Hague School was first coined in 1875 by the critic Jacob van Santen Kolff (1848–96). The Hague school painters drew their inspiration from the flat polder landscape and the everyday lives of peasants and fishermen around The Hague and the nearby port of Scheveningen The group covers two generations of painters, born roughly between 1820 and 1845 Their headquarters was the artists’ society Pulchri Studio. In the mid-1850s some of the younger painters, including the three brothers Jacob, Matthijs and Willem Maris from The Hague, and the Haarlem-based Paul Joseph Constantin Gabriël and Anton Mauve, laid the foundation for a new landscape art based on the close study of nature in the area around Oosterbeek, later styled the ‘Dutch Barbizon’ Jozef Israëls, who was still living in Amsterdam at the time, established himself as the leading artist in the depiction of fishing scenes in the early 1860s.
The predominant style of painting in the Hague School was Impressionism. The painters of the Hague School primarily aimed to reproduce a certain atmosphere.. Although the themes approached are different, often come back in gray and brown colors which make the contours less distinct and which give the paintings an autumnal melancholy. Conservative criticism questioned the aesthetic aspect of this form of realism and rejected the school in The Hague for its “grayish painting”. In 1888, one of them wrote about an exhibition: “Mesdag hung a picture on it with a storm where the sea seems horribly dirty and where the clouds are balls of flour crossing the sky”.
In spite of different subjects, the coloristic treatment, whose gray and brown values obscure contours and give the pictures autumnal melancholy, was related. Conservative critics therefore questioned the aesthetic content of that realism and rejected the Hague School for its “gray painting”. One of them wrote in an exhibition criticism in 1888: “There is a storm hanging from Mesdag, in which the sea looks terribly dirty and the clouds fly through the air like huge dumplings of flour”.
Painting by the Hague School came to results in the late 19th century, laying the foundations of modernism in the Netherlands, on which van Gogh and Mondrian later built. This makes them one of the direct forerunners of neo-impressionism.
That group of painters, gathered as a school in The Hague, showed a double interest in landscape painting and social witness.
Often color was subordinated to the atmosphere to the point of enlightening characteristics in the group enunciated as “the government of gray” (although using all shades of gray and subjecting them to light).
After the great periods of Dutch art in the Golden Age of the 17th century, there were economic and political problems which diminished activity in art. The fine arts in the Netherlands enjoyed a revival around 1830, a time now referred to as the Romantic period in Dutch painting. The style was an imitation of the great 17th-century artists. The most widely accepted paintings of this period were landscapes and paintings which reflected national history. Andreas Schelfhout was a painter of landscapes, especially winter scenes, but also woodlands and the dunes between The Hague and Scheveningen.
His best known pupils included Wijnand Nuyen, Johan Barthold Jongkind, and Jan Hendrik Weissenbruch. Schelfhout’s friend and occasional collaborator Hendrik van de Sande Bakhuyzen principally composed pastoral landscapes like those of Golden Age master Paulus Potter, but trained several prominent Hague School artists, notably his son Julius van de Sande Bakhuyzen, Willem Roelofs, Francois Pieter ter Meulen, Hubertus van Hove, and Weissenbruch. Wijnand Nuyen was one of the best of the romantic artists of the time and he had a great influence on Weissenbruch and Johannes Bosboom.
Art training at that time was usually in the form of drawing schools, with no painting classes. Many young artists who later became members of the Hague School were frustrated by this and scattered to various places to receive the training they desired. Gerard Bilders left the Hague Academy of Drawing and completed training with the Swiss animal painter, Charles Humbert. Paul Gabriël went to Kleve, just over the German border, to study with the landscape painter Barend Cornelis Koekkoek. Jozef Israëls, unsatisfied with the academies at Groningen and Amsterdam, left for Paris to attend classes at the studio of François-Édouard Picot. Jacob Maris left the Hague Academy for the corresponding institution in Antwerp and from there he went to study with Ernest Hébert in Paris. His brother Matthijs Maris studied with Nicaise de Keyser in Antwerp. Hendrik Willem Mesdag left Groningen to perfect his skills in Brussels under Willem Roelofs. He also received additional instructions from Lawrence Alma-Tadema, who would later move to England.
Oosterbeek and Barbizon
In the 1830s artists like Théodore Rousseau, Jean-François Millet, Charles-François Daubigny, and Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot found their way to Barbizon, a forested area near Fontainebleau. The emphasis of their work here was on painting nature as they saw it – Barbizon was not a school but a community of artists. This gave rise to the well known Barbizon school and their example was followed in the 1850s by a few Dutch painters who gathered in Oosterbeek in order to work in the surrounding countryside.
These painters had been influenced by the artists of the Barbizon School and emulated them by registering their impressions with rapid strokes of color. Johannes Warnardus Bilders, father of Gerard Bilders, moved to Oosterbeek in 1852 and attracted many pupils: Anton Mauve, a cousin-in-law of Vincent van Gogh, the Maris brothers (Jacob, Willem and Matthijs) in the summer, as well as the regular visitors Willem Roelofs and Paul Gabriël. Some of these artists, such as Jozef Israëls, Jacob Maris and Jan Hendrik Weissenbruch visited Barbizon to paint there.
The Hague and Düsseldorf
There was a slight connection between the “Düsseldorf Art Association” when an exhibition on “Fishing in Scheveningen” occurred. It concerned such artists as Carl Hilgers, Hermann Mevius, Carl Adloff and Andreas Achenbach.
The call of the Düsseldorf painters’ school attracted artists of the Hague school, such Johannes Bosboom and J. W. Bilders. At the beginning of his career Jozef Israëls went on a study trip to Düsseldorf. Also Julius van de Sande Bakhuyzen and Philip Sadée came to Düsseldorf. The Düsseldorf academy was famous as a training center for her scenery and histories painting. The bright colour order which distinguishes those paintings is unmistakable.
The Hague School
Gerard Bilders had been seeking something of the kind in his own work, but on visiting the national Exhibition in Brussels in 1860, he found what he had been looking for: a colored gray tonality, or as he put it “the impression of a warm, fragrant gray.” The muted tones and warm gray that Bilders found here was certainly discussed with his friends in Oosterbeek and found its way into the work of the young Hague School painters.
The migration of these artists to The Hague began in the late 1860s. Hendrik Willem Mesdag was the first, moving there in 1869. Jacob Maris returned to The Hague in 1870 after the family’s experience in Paris in the Franco-Prussian War. That same year Jozef Israëls came to The Hague, as did Anton Mauve. Willem Maris, Johannes Bosboom and Weissenbruch had always lived there. For Mesdag, the move marked the end of his student days in Brussels. For Maris it meant a break with the Paris dealers, who would not let him paint what he wanted. Friendship played an important role in this group of painters and whenever one of them was invited to take part in a major exhibition, he would arrange for his friends to also submit work. The outside world was thus presented with a picture of a united artistic and stylized front. The gray tonality was to become one of the characteristics of the Hague School.
The name “Hague School” was coined in 1875 by a critic, Jacob van Santen Kolff, who used the phrases “a new way of seeing and depicting things”, “intent to convey mood, tone takes precedence over color”, “almost exclusive preference for so-called ‘bad weather’ effects”, and “gray mood.” The Hague School artists were less interested in a faithful portrayal of what they saw than in conveying the atmosphere and impression of the moment. They painted in mostly in subdued colors, with a penchant for gray. That is why the Hague School is sometimes also called the Gray School.
The painters of the Hague School conducted some of their artistic discussions as member of the Pulchri Studio, which had been founded in 1847 by Bosboom, Willem Roelofs and J. H. Weissenbruch at the home of the Hague painter Lambertus Hardenberg. Growing discontent among the young artists in The Hague about the apparently insufficient opportunities for training and development was the reason for establishing the Pulchri Studio. Many members of the Hague School served on the board of the Pulchri Studio, so that the society became a bastion of the school for many years.
Over the years, the artists of the Hague School changed. Jacob Maris enriched his palette with vivid brushwork, especially in his Amsterdam town views. Jozef Israëls had completely abandoned his anecdotal manner and somber coloring. J. H. Weissenbruch blurred the details in his later work, painting beach scenes and landscapes in magnificently conceived planes of color with an almost abstract quality. Willem Maris became the painter of light he had always tried to be, producing summer meadows with sunlight sparkling on the water and cattle—the quintessence of the Dutch landscape. Matthijis Maris’ further development was also remarkable, albeit tragic. Despite the support of family and friends, he led a solitary existence. He worked for years on his paintings of brides and portraits of children, which became increasingly hazy and dreamy until finally becoming completely detached from reality.
By the mid-1880s the united front of the Hague School began to crumble. The character of the city of The Hague changed as it became larger. The small fishing village of Scheveningen changed as new suburbs were built and factories transformed the area. Weissenbruch and Roelofs found The Hague to be growing too fast and retreated to the polders to continue painting.
Anton Mauve and Jozef Israëls became active in the Laren School which perpetuated aspects of the Hague School. Albert Neuhuys, Hein Kever and Evert Pieters, were especially active there between 1880 and 1900. Realistic interiors of Laren farm houses, as well as plein air landscapes were the preferred subjects of the paintings. Anton Mauve was particularly active in the latter and his views of the heathlands were quite popular with American art lovers.
While The Hague was becoming too large for some, it was too small for others who became influential in the Amsterdam Impressionism group which developed there. This movement drew on city life for its subject matter, although the contrast with the Hague School was less pronounced than is occasionally suggested. This group included some who are designated below as members of the second generation of the Hague School such as George Hendrik Breitner, Isaac Israëls (son of Jozef Israëls), Willem Bastiaan Tholen and Willem de Zwart (also known as William Black). In addition, Willem Witsen, Floris Verster, Jan Hillebrand Wijsmuller and Jan Toorop have some background with the Hague School and are considered to be in the Amsterdam Impressionism movement.
Although not usually associated with the Hague School, Johan Jongkind was called a forerunner of impressionism who influenced Eugène Boudin, who later was mentor to Claude Monet. Others who had at least a tangential connections with the artists of the Hague School are Charles Rochussen, Richard Bisschop and Lawrence Alma-Tadema.
Around the 1890s in France, impressionism was followed by post-impressionism, which places greater emphasis on the form, structure and content of the painting. This movement, too, was picked up in the Netherlands, resulting in a Dutch post-impressionism and introducing abstract elements and cubism into modern painting. Famous examples are Vincent van Gogh, who received his first art training from Anton Mauve, as well as Piet Mondrian, who initially painted in the manner of the Hague School and then in a variety of styles and techniques documenting his search for a personal style.
In addition to those already mentioned, we should add the names of Floris Arntzenius, Gerard Bilders, Bernard Blommers, Paul Gabriël, Willem Roelofs, Jan Hendrik Weissenbruch or Willem de Zwart, among others with works collected in Dutch art galleries such as the Rijksmuseum.
Likewise, among the artists who could be influenced by the Hague School, painters as diverse as Willem Maris, Isaac Israëls, son of Jozef, Piet Mondrian, Jan Toorop and Vincent van Gogh have been cited.
Some artists such as Paul Gabriël, Willem Roelofs, Johan Hendrik Weissenbruch and the brothers Jacob, Matthijs and Willem Maris worked outdoors in the marshes near the towns of Nieuwkoop, Noorden and Kortenhoef and helped to paint the Dutch cultural landscape with pastures and grazing cows and marshes Canals and windmills.
Other artists also preferred the coast and painted on the beach. The fishing village of Scheveningen in particular became an important source of inspiration for artists such as Hendrik Willem Mesdag, Bernard Blommers, Anton Mauve and Philip Sadée.
The works of the Hague painters were by no means limited to landscape painting. Mesdag was particularly known for his depiction of arriving and departing fishing boats (so-called “bomschuiten”), a topic that Bernard Blommers, Anton Mauve and Jacob Maris were also happy to deal with. Mesdag, in particular, had great international success with its sea depictions and thus became the group’s best-selling artist.
The Fischer genre was initially the theme preferred by Jozef Israëls. Israëls later came to a dreamy and emotional “interior realism” depicting small everyday joys and ailments from the lives of fishermen and farmers. Unlike the others, he remained but a typical studio painter who only created sketches outdoors.
A somewhat out of line member of the group was Johannes Bosboom, who was born in The Hague, and who primarily wrote architectural pictures, such as the depiction of church interiors.
The following artists were considered supporters of the Hague School in their early days, but later followed their own paths: George Hendrik Breitner, Isaac Israëls and Jan Toorop. (Compare Amsterdam impressionists.)
Many Dutch painters of the late 19th or early 20th century were inspired by the Hague School and painted in the same style. Some of them later turned away from the Hague style and went their own way. This group of painters is often referred to as the late Hague School or the second generation of The Hague School. Some representatives were Dirk van Haaren, Jan Hillebrand Wijsmuller, Daniël Mühlhaus and Willem Weissenbruch and Jan Willem van Borselen.
Vincent van Gogh was also influenced by the Hague School, who met the Hague School artists in The Hague and was introduced to the technique of watercolor and oil painting by his cousin Anton Mauve. Accordingly, his early works were dominated by the same earthy colors as those of his role models Anton Mauve and Jozef Israëls.
One of the last representatives of the Hague School was Adrianus Zwart in his early work.
The collection of the Mesdag Museum in The Hague houses the most important painting collection of the Hague School. Mesdag itself founded the museum through its own foundation.
The success story of this new realistic painting, which also builds on the knowledge of the painting technique of a Rembrandt van Rijn, can be seen as the second golden age of Dutch painting. The later established Hague School is art-historically associated with the appearance of Joseph Israëls, i.e. around 1860, when this trend was first noticed abroad. The picture Tomb of the Mother was acquired by the Rijksmuseum. His painting The Drowning was already in London during the 1862 World’s Fairconsidered one of the most moving pictures in the exhibition. It was not until eleven years later that the movement was valued at the World Exhibition in Vienna. It is noteworthy that the Hague School was always closed and had its own premises.
From the 1870s to the First World War, the Hague School was coveted in the Netherlands and abroad and enjoyed increasing demand. She was particularly noticed in Germany (among others by Jan de Haas, who lived in Munich for a long time), the USA and Scotland. They were present at almost all major exhibitions in Europe and the New World, such as London, Vienna, Munich, Venice, New York, Boston, Washington DC and Montreal. Many wealthy Americans, including President William Howard Taft (1909-1913), supplemented their collections with works by the Hague School.
After the First World War, the Hague School was increasingly overshadowed by neo-impressionism and modernism movements. In 1916, Marius Bauer dismissed the painters from the Hague School as a “painter from the trench”. Her work was just kitsch, and thus the knowledge of the impact of this Hague school as a current of a variety of Impressionism and a pioneer of modernity was undeservedly lost from the textbooks for art history.
A reassessment did not take place until fifty years later when Jos de Gruyter organized a large retrospective in the Gemeentemuseum. The re-evaluation was then carried out by John Sillevis, the curator of the museum of the same name, who organized a traveling exhibition in 1983, which was also well received abroad. Various publications by Sillevis were dedicated to the topic and contributed significantly to the recognition and reassessment of the Hague School. New insightful studies came from the art historians Saskia de Bodt, Hans Janssen and Roland de Leeuw. The Rijksmuseum and the Van Gogh Museum subsequently acquired important works from the Hague School. From the Hague Gemeentemuseum is still having a big impact today.
Today the Hague School is one of the first successful art movements in Holland since the 17th century. For the Netherlands, it was the first manifestation of a system in which artists, apart from the patronage, could determine their own way and circulate their works through the art trade.
“Although the waves are still breaking on the beach, after the Hague School there are no more artists who could reflect the Dutch landscape in all its facets. Light, air and water are the ingredients of this typical Dutch landscape, which the painters of the Hague School were able to express in their mood with oil and watercolor painting. ”
For example, the introduction of the catalog for the Hague School exhibition, written by Renske Suyver from the Rijksmuseum Amsterdam.