Exhibition: “Beautiful Holland”

Throughout Europe, as well as a large part of the world, culture is threatened. Practically all European governments pose a threat to everything cultural and educational.They rigorously cut cultural and educational budgets, which were already reduced on a yearly basis since the latter part of the twentieth century.

In Germany and a few other countries, many museums fire and get rid of qualified, experienced, dedicated staff. To cut costs, these are replaced by volunteers who not always have the right training, education or commitment.

“Buying” successful travelling exhibitions, previously hosted by other museums, is an occasional alternative to bring in visitors and much-needed funds. However, this demands an investment and the return may not be enough to cover the costs.

In some countries, the sorry state of affairs is such, that museums are forced to merge. Or they are forced by their governments and culture ministers, to no longer host their own individual exhibitions but develop “joint venture” exhibitions with a fellow museum in order to end up on the list of such a minister to perhaps qualify for a small bit of the much reduced culture funds.

In the Netherlands, such a “joint venture” exhibition organised by the Mesdag Collection and Teylers Museum recently closed. The exhibition focussed on Dutch watercolours. The Teylers Museum hosted the part explaining the development of watercolour painting in the Netherlands. The Mesdag Collection hosted the part explaining the role the painter and art collector Willem Mesdag played in making watercolours popular in the Netherlands.The Mesdag Collection itself, is no longer an independent museum but a kind of annexe of the Amsterdam Vincent van Gogh Museum, with which it merged some time ago.

Another such “joint venture” is the current temporary exhibition in the Dordrechts Museum (in Dordrecht, the Netherlands) and the The Hague Gemeente Museum. Both exhibitions, or rather the exhibition spread between both museums, is called “Holland op z’n mooist” or “Beautiful Holland”.

This exhibition focusses mainly on the Dutch landscape as painted and made world-famous by the “Haagse School” during the late 19th and early 20th century. At Dordrecht, the exhibition shows work by artists who introduced the ideas and principles to Dutch painters, which were further developed and used by the group of painters now dubbed the “Haagse School”. In The Hague, the exhibition focusses mainly on painters belonging to this “The Hague” group.

Characteristics these painters share, include a fascination with the Dutch landscape as well as its seascape, its poorer inhabitants, the animals, a certain kind of realism. Most painters studied abroad and travelled to for instance Brussels and Paris. Many were influenced by the Impressionists and the Barbizon School.

In The Hague, the exhibition includes paintings by Mesdag. But there are also a couple of interesting paintings by for instance Anton Mauve; WeissenbruchWillem, Jacob and Matthijs Maris; Willem Roelofs, Jozef Israels, and Willem Bastiaan Tholen. Though many paintings show the use of a restrictive number of colours, not all merit the term “Gray School”.

In one of the first rooms of the exhibition, there is for instance an autumn painting of a spring. This painting perfectly captures the sunny rusty colours of trunks and leaves. On the other hand: it is an early example. But who would call Israël’s painting “Donkey Ride” sombre?

There are several paintings of Haarlem showing the first Dutch railroad and distant steam trains. This is not the Haarlem surrounded by radiant bulb fields. As elsewhere, the industrial revolution will affect the Dutch landscape deeply. The painters were aware of this. “The Invalids” shows mills which have lost their sails. Soon these invalids, which already miss all their limbs, will be destroyed and replaced by steam engines.

The well-known painting called “Morning ride by the sea” by Anton Mauve is of course part of the exhibition in The Hague. But there are also paintings by less famous members of the Haagse School. I was much impressed by a few paintings by Willem Bastiaan Tholen.

The exhibition in The Hague covers quite a few rooms. But after the first few, I must admit I was growing tired of mills, cows, flat landscape and grey sea. A few rooms further and I concluded there was just far too much of the same stuff – even though the various paintings covered decades and were by different painters. It all became a bland soup of sameness.

To be utterly and totally honest: the “Dutch Watercolours” exhibitions at the Teyelers Museum and Mesdag Collection had been far, far more fabulous! These had also included pictures of the Dutch landscape, but which had impressed me far more.

Moreover, like many other tourists and visitors, the exhibition title “Beautiful Holland” had taken me in. I had presumed the exhibition would cover and include much more than just the narrow focus “Haagse School”.

So: if you’re lured to the exhibition “Beautiful Holland” in Dordrecht, ensure you save your ticket. It entitles you to a well-deserved discount on the entry ticket of the Gemeente Museum The Hague. If you can only make it to the The Hague Gemeente Museum: it does have a few other exhibitions which are included in its ticket price. Visiting these might make all the sheep, cows, polders and mills somewhat more palatable.

Dordechts Museum, Dordrecht; exhibition runs till 6th of September 2015
Gemeente Museum, The Hague; exhibition runs till 30th of August 2015

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