Starting on 13 June, the Gemeentemuseum is holding an exhibition looking at the Hague School from a completely new angle. The show focuses primarily on the symbolism and meaning of the paintings and will revolve around the working and private lives of the people depicted in them. The Hague School is famous for its atmospheric landscapes but the fact that these form the setting for human activity of many different kinds has been largely ignored. New Light – The Hague School Revealed tells the stories behind the works and the result is a revelation indeed: a new Hague School, rich in unsuspected significance. The exhibition is curated by Benno Tempel, Director of the Gemeentemuseum.
Hague School oil paintings and works on paper yield a wealth of information about Dutch life in the latter half of the nineteenth century. All stages of the human life cycle are represented, from earliest childhood, with parents introducing small children to the world, right through to lonely and melancholy old age. Shifting the focus from style to content immediately reveals the importance of symbolism in the work of the Hague School: an old man taking a walk is also approaching the end of life and a young shepherdess with a newborn lamb becomes a modern Madonna. The use of symbolism by a celebrated contemporary, Vincent van Gogh, is well-known but the fact that the Hague School was an important source of inspiration and guidance in this regard has hitherto been overlooked.
The Hague School artists were fascinated by the lives of the labouring classes. For example, Anton Mauve’s 1882 painting Fishing Boat on the Beach shows fishermen using horses to drag their boat up the beach in the absence of a proper harbour. The sea plays an important but ambiguous role as both a friendly and a hostile force, taking life but at the same time saving it by providing an income for the poverty-stricken fishing community.
The Hague School flourished at a time when people in Europe were, for the first time, seeking images of national unity. Previously, people in the Netherlands had thought mainly in terms of their own locality. Now that the concept of the nation was being emphasised, there was a need for a unifying idea of national character. Dutch people saw themselves as indomitable, down-to-earth and hard-working – like the figures shown in the art of the period.
This exhibition comprises over 100 oil paintings and works on paper drawn from public and private collections. The Gemeentemuseum possesses one of the leading collections of Hague School works and sees it as part of its mission to hold regular exhibitions drawing attention to this milestone in Dutch art history.