Exhibition: Dutch dunes and poetry

Even if the weather is too hot, warm, cold, wet, stormy – you can still admire the landscape visiting a few Dutch museums. In controlled climate, they offer you a few interesting summer exhibitions. For a start, there is the joint exhibition, organised by the Gemeente Museum in The Hague and the Dordts Museum in Dordrecht.

In Dordrecht, the exhibition focuses on more romantic landscape paintings. Here you can admire painters who worked during the first half of the 19th century. They influenced and inspired the so-called “Haagse School”.

At the Gemeente Museum the exhibition of Dutch landscapes focusses on works by  members of the Haagse School. Most of the paintings, drawings, photos, are from the second half of the 19th and early 20th century. The landscape is already altering due to the Industrial Revolution.

Another The Hague museum also offers an exhibition about landscapes. It focusses on dunes. You will find this Haags Historisch Museum in a former Guild Hall building, at the other corner of the street which runs from the Mauritshuis along the Hofvijver.

Perhaps you think dunes are only to be found along that narrow strip between land, beach, sea? The Netherlands is one of the countries which also has dunes elsewhere. These old dunes were created during ice ages. Visit the Dutch Hoge Veluwe National Park and you are walking through a very old landscape.

Some dunes protecting the Dutch land from the sea are pretty low and unimpressive. Others are high enough, to be called mountains in this flat-as-a-pancake landscape. Quite a few of the paintings exhibited, are from the area around the village of Bergen (mountains). This village was a “painters colony”: a place where painters went, met, worked and influenced each other.

Another favourite part of the country seems to have been Zeeland. According to the exhibition information, quite a few artists claimed the light was special there. A few pointillist-like paintings by artists show how they tried to capture it.

Other painters were far more interested in the isolated, rugged, desolate and sometimes threatening dune landscape. There is a beautiful magic-realism landscape by Thé Lau, a talented multi-disciplined Dutch artist who recently died.

Another painting, by William Tholen, was painted decades earlier. It shows a flock of sheep in sandy dunes. The area he painted can still be visited. Other work by him can be admired in the other two exhibitions.

There was a lovely small 17th century painting of an encounter between people along a road through the dunes. None of the humans noticed the dog strained its leash, because there was a hare in a distant corner of the painting. A small joke by the artist.

The paintings are exhibited according to various themes, spread over several rooms on the museum’s first floor. This choice is quite interesting. It enables the combination of various styles and different interpretations or treatments of the same subject. You will find 17th century and 21st century paintings hanging next to each other.

The exhibition not only deals with paintings and drawings. On the walls are lines taken from poems about dunes. Throughout the exhibition, there are pillars with screens and headphones available. Here visitors who understand Dutch or Flemish can use touch screens to select poems read out by poets or actors.

Each painting does have an English explanation, but some translations are of truly appalling quality. Fortunately, the jarring or even incorrect texts will not prevent you from enjoying quite a number of beautiful paintings.

But if landscapes are not your thing, the museum has other temporary and permanent exhibitions. Though not as spectacular as Rembrandt’s “Night Watch”, this museum’s paintings of militia companies are still pretty impressive. It also has an attic full of miniatures and dolls houses.

This attic also contains another temporary exhibition. Its theme is a historic event. A few locals tell about being evacuated as children, during the last winter of the Second World War.

A small part of the Netherlands was liberated late 1944. The other part endured a winter which went down in national history as the “Hunger Winter”; the Dutch famine of 1944.  Food transports became impossible. Many people died, while others tried to survive turning tulip bulbs and other plants into meals.

Children whom doctors deemed capable of surviving a long, dangerous journey, were evacuated to more affluent pats of the country. The traumatic experience of leaving the family behind, being smuggled through an occupied country with Allied planes attacking whatever moved, was awful enough. On arrival, kind people fed the children hefty meal – to which the children’s stomachs were no longer used.

Some children were taken in by kind foster families. Others were treated as unwanted burdens, or even free labour to work on farms. This exhibition has Dutch and English explanations and though very small, is pretty moving. It also tells a historic event, which unfortunately is a contemporary experience for children elsewhere.

Haags Historisch Museum, The Hague. The exhibition “Op het duin” can be visited till 15th of September.
Haags Gemeente Museum, The Hague
Dorts Museum, Dordrecht

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