Beginnings of The Hague School
Jacob van Ruisdael and Paulus Potter
The Hague School artists absorbed the influence of the 17th century painter Jacob van Ruisdael, the Dutch Golden Age's pre-eminent landscapist, and Paulus Potter, well known for his paintings of farm animals. Van Ruisdael, one of the most famous landscape painters of 17th-century Holland, adopting a Naturalistic approach; his trees and shrubbery rendered with a botanical precision and an evocative use of color that could convey a brooding poetic ambiance that ranged from to the romantic to the tragic. One of his early landscapes, Dune Landscape near Haarlem (1647), for instance, placed the tree-covered dunes at the center of the composition to create a heroic sense of landscape, where figures and a distant buildings convey human activity as a detail in part of a larger, all-powerful, natural landscape.
Potter's monumental life-sized painting De Stier (The Bull) (1647) was one of the most celebrated paintings in all the Netherlands; so celebrated, in fact, Napoleon seized the work and took it to Paris in 1795 where it hung in the Louvre (until an 1815 treaty saw it returned to its rightful home in the Netherlands). Potter's portrayal of the bull was noted for both its realism and its heroic treatment of an animal. Indeed, the subject resonated with the Dutch people for whom the bull had become a symbol of prosperity and of an independent Dutch Republic.
Johannes Warnardus Bilders
In 1841 Dutch landscape artist Johannes Warnardus Bilders moved to Oosterbeek, a village in eastern Netherlands that would become the destination of choice - the "Barbizon of the North" as it was dubbed - for a group of progressive Dutch landscapists. Beginning in 1830, the Barbizon School, located near the Forest of Fontainebleau in France, was a loose association of artists including Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot, Jean-Francois Millet and Théodore Rousseau. Like the Barbizon, Bilders advocated naturalistic treatments of landscapes and scenes of rural life and he exerted a dominant influence over many Hague School artists who flocked to the region. Critic Max Rooses described Bilders as a "great interpreter of nature" and his students included his son Gerard, Anton Mauve, the Maris brothers and Paul Gabriël (all active in The Hague School). Many Hague School artists retreated to Oosterbeek, often spending an entire summer painting landscapes in the meadows and forests.
Having spent the first eighteen years of his life in Utrecht (save the four year period between 1841-45 where the Bilders family lived in Oosterbeek), Gerard Bilders (Johannes's son) moved to The Hague in 1857. While studying at the Academy of Visual Arts, he often visited the Mauritshuis Museum where he assiduously copied works by Potter and van Ruisdael. He admired them especially for showing "the landscape as a whole" and for creating an effect of "unity" that was so compelling he felt as if he were experiencing nature first-hand. Bilders also forged links with future Hague School members, Jacob and Willem Maris, and Mauve. By 1859 Bilders was painting the Dutch landscape and developing a unique style that he described as "a colored, fragrant warm grey". As he wrote in 1860: "I am searching for a tone, which we call 'colored grey'. I mean that all colors, even the strongest, can be brought together in such a way as to give the impression of a warm, vital grey". Though he died suddenly at the age of just twenty-six (in 1865), his grey tonalities and his subject matter - typically landscapes depicting cattle at pasture - gave the Hague School its early aesthetic impetus which was developed subsequently by the likes of Mauve and Józef Israëls.
Johan Hendrik Weissenbruch, Willem Roelofs, and Johannes Bosboom founded the Pulchri Studio in the home of the Hague painter Lambertus Hardenberg in January 1847. The goal was to provide training and development opportunities for artists who shunned the metropolitan centers of Amsterdam and Rotterdam in favor of The Hague's lush rural surroundings, and its close proximity to the picturesque fishing village of Scheveningen. Including a workshop with drawing from life models, the Pulchri Studio also functioned as an artist's association, accepting both working artists and art collectors as members, and holding art appreciation (Kunstbechouwingen) gatherings where artists could present their works and connect with fellow artists and collectors. The Pulchri Studio became a bastion for the Hague School painters, most of whom passed through its doors.
A friend and relative (by marriage) of Mauve, the emerging artist Vincent van Gogh, spent a productive period in the Hague and the nearby fishing village of Scheveningen between 1881 and 1883. Van Gogh became an associate member of Pulchri Studio in the fall of 1881, and though his membership lapsed after six months, it allowed van Gogh to interact with other artists and to finesse his life drawing skills twice weekly (saving him the expense of hiring his own models). It is also a matter of record that Van Gogh attended one or more art appreciation sessions on the tableau vivant and participated in the Exhibition of Living Masters, held every three years at the Studio. (It is known, too, that Blommers approached van Gogh about the possibility of giving a lecture on his personal collection of magazine illustrations, though in the event, the Pulchri Board rejected Blommers's proposal because it did not attach artistic importance to graphic works.)
The Laren School
By the mid-1880s the members of the Hague School began to disperse. The character of The Hague was becoming lost to rapid urbanization while the area around the small fishing village of Scheveningen was being transformed by the building of new suburbs and factories. Weissenbruch, Willem Roelofs and John Hendrik had altered their aesthetic outlook and set off in search of the bright, open, skies of the Dutch polders. Israëls, and his son, Isaac, had been drawn rather to the unspoiled natural beauty and farming life in Laren, a village situated in the heathlands east of Amsterdam.
From 1882 Mauve painted in the largely barren surroundings of Laren where he often sketched flocks of sheep which he then turned into large compositions in his studio. Albert Neuhuys and Mauve moved to Laren (in 1883 and 1885 respectively) and established what became known as the Laren School; a thriving art colony that continued the Hague School tradition of realistic farmhouse interiors and plein air landscapes. Led by a second generation of Hague artists including Willem de Zwart, George Hendrik Breitner, and Willem Bastiaan Tholen, the Laren School had, however, started to consciously absorb the influence of Impressionism. This preference for looser brushwork and a lighter color palette would lead subsequently to a desire to represent cityscapes and the birth of Amsterdam Impressionism.
Concepts and Styles
The Hague School artists worked outdoors to capture the ambiance of everyday living through landscapes based predominantly on two settings: coastal scenes, often featuring elements of fishing life, and meadow scenes, usually featuring scenes of daily farm life. Bilders was primarily known for his meadow scenes, while Israëls and Maris were drawn more to the grey and sombre light of Holland's North Sea coast. Some artists explored a more diverse range of subject matter with Mauve known, in addition to his "sheep paintings", for his rural snow scenes and paintings of the Scheveningen coast.
The Hague School was also drawn to subjects that reflected the changing Dutch landscape as industrialization, which came relatively late to the Netherlands, encroached on the landscape through the construction of railways, canals, bridges and telegraph poles. The image of the new Dutch landscape was reflected in works such as Israëls, The Sand Bargeman (1887), which addressed the theme of land being reclaimed from the sea, rivers and marshland through steam-driven pumping mills and drainage canals. Here the sand bargeman is transporting sand from the newly levelled dunes of the Hague. It was a theme mirrored by state commissioned photographers such as Johann Georg Hameter who, in images such as Railway Bridge over the Meuse nearby Rotterdam (1877), documented the building of public projects at the dawning of the modern Netherlands.
Though known primarily for their landscapes, when the wintery Dutch weather was at its worst, the Hague School artists were unable to work outside and so often turned to interior settings for inspiration. Israëls was particularly noted for such scenes. In his Alone in the World (1881), for instance, an elderly man sits alone in a room beside the bed where his wife has just died. His domestic scenes, often compared to those of Rembrandt, were celebrated for their compassionate and tragic but realistic treatment, with the French art critic Edmond Duranty describing his interiors as full of "shadows and grief". The mother and child was a common motif in interior scenes, and the direct influence of Israëls could be seen in the work van Gogh who, following his move north from the Hague to Drente, began working on several versions of The Potato Eaters (1885).
With Cellar of the Artist's Home in The Hague (1888) Weissenbruch had also turned to interiors; his view of his own cellar rendered through a muted palette of browns and grays contrasting with the studied effects of light falling through the cellar window (and even the detail of some discarded green cabbage leaves on the tile floor in the near foreground). While also painting interior scenes of farm life, such as his Interior of a Farm near Hilversum (1827-1891), Bosboom was known for his unique emphasis on church interiors, such as his Bakenesserkerk, Interior (1870), which showed several villagers in the hushed atmosphere of a Gothic church.
The Hague School became known for their watercolors which they regarded as freestanding artworks rather than mere preliminary studies for oil paintings. Johannes Bosboom was especially revered for his scenes of the interiors of churches and his landscapes, such as his The Beach at Scheveningen (1873). Other noted watercolorists included Mauve, Weissenbruch, Israëls, Jacob Maris and Hendrik Willem Mesdag. Israëls was in fact a founding member of the Dutch Watercolour Society, formed in 1876, and, with Bosboom, regularly exhibited at the Society.
The influence of the Hague watercolorists spread to America through the landscape and marine paintings of Emile Albert Gruppe. The son of Charles Paulo Gruppe, himself a one-time member of the Hague School, and later an art dealer for Dutch painting in the US, Emile spent his early years studying in Holland and became a member of the Pulchri Studio. He won several honors on his return to the US including a silver medal for oils and watercolors at the 1904 St. Louis Exposition. He was also a member of the New York Watercolor Club and the American Watercolor Society.
Later Developments - After The Hague School
According to the National Galleries of Scotland, by 1880 Glasgow ranked as one of the finest and richest cities in Europe with its economic success giving rise to "a growing appreciation of creativity [from which] a thriving art market emerged". Glasgow attracted a number of wealthy industrialists and mercantile collectors who shared a preference for modern art and "Commercial Glasgow art dealers such as Craibe Angus and Alexander Reid were displaying works by Barbizon and Hague School artists in the windows of their dealerships". The influence of Dutch and French landscapists proved inspirational for a loose group who, leading into the early years of the twentieth century, became known as the "Glasgow Boys" (or locally just as "the boys"). Made up of radical young painters including James Guthrie and John Lavery, the Glasgow Boys were, like their Dutch and French predecessors, united in their disillusionment with academic painting and turned, with their muted palettes, to scenes of rural subjects and everyday working life.
The approach of the Hague School painters was taken forward by the Amsterdam Impressionists who, like their French counterparts, put the modern city at the forefront of their paintings. Having already established himself as a painter, Breitner became a noted photographer too. Some of his paintings were composed from photographs, such as The Singel Bridge at the Paleisstraat in Amsterdam (1896-98), that shows a woman walking towards the viewer (viewfinder) in a cropped image that is conspicuously photographic in its composition. Breitner produced an impressive photographic portfolio largely based around the streets of Amsterdam featuring mostly working-class figures and children at play. The Hague School also had a noticeable impact on Dutch Pictorialist photographers such as the Haarlem-based Adriaan Boer whose heath landscapes, such as Towards the Fold (1905), was highly reminiscent of the Hague School, and of Mauve in particular.
The Scottish Pictorialist James Craig Annan, meanwhile, arrived in the Netherlands in 1892 where he produced hundreds of landscape photographs. He wrote "All is cold and grey for it is early spring and last year's grass is only a shade deeper than the sand, which stretches hillock beyond hillock until they meet the greyer sky, which westward blends into the horizon of the sea". Annan was the key influence on the development of art photography in America having exhibited at Alfred Stieglitz's Photo-Secession Galleries in New York and also having published his work in the two leading photographic periodicals in America: Camera Notes, and Stieglitz's Camera Work. Indeed, during a tour of Europe in 1894 Stieglitz himself produced twenty "Dutch subjects" including Scurrying Home (aka: The Hour of Prayer, near the traditional village of Katwijk) (1894) which showed two fisher-women approaching a distant church in a composition that directly recalls the atmosphere of the Hague School paintings.
For its part, The Laren School, or The Laren Colony as it was also known, continued to attract artists into the early years of the 20th century. Indeed, during the First World War, Piet Mondrian took refuge at the Colony where he met Theo van Doesburg. The legacy of the Hague School has been kept alive, meanwhile, through the Pulchri Studio which continues to thrive as an artists' association and gallery, holding in the region fifty exhibitions annually.
Content compiled and written by Rebecca Seiferle
Edited and revised, with Summary and Accomplishments added by Anthony Todd
Content compiled and written by Rebecca Seiferle
Edited and revised, with Summary and Accomplishments added by Anthony Todd
First published on 21 Sep 2020. Updated and modified regularly