The small exhibition at Panorama Mesdag, not to be confused with the nearby Mesdag Collection, puts local artist Jan Giesen in the spotlight. Jan Giesen was born in The Hague in 1900 and died there in 1983. Though now hardly known, he became an influential graphic designer and arts teacher.
Giesen spent most of his life in The Hague. Though as explained in this exhibition, he did leave to teach art at a school in Zeeland. Not for long: within two years he was back in The Hague, teaching at its Art Academy.
In The Hague, the beach, dunes, nature and developments at Scheveningen and Kijkduin inspired him. This exhibition specifically focuses on works Giesen created between 1920 to 1930. It contains drawings, etchings, woodblock prints.
A high-light are Giesen’s portraits of nine labourers. The back-breaking, manual work they carried out for long hours, left traces in their faces. They cut, chopped, hauled, dug in all weather, while not earning much.
The exhibition mentions Jan Toorop, ‘whose portraits in this period were seen as the Netherlands’ best’, as an important influence. It seems contemporaries drew comparisons. However, there is also Toorop’s daughter Charlie.
Like her father and Giesen, she also drew labourers and farm workers. It is her works, rather than her father’s, of which I was reminded while visiting this exhibition. There are also links to artists like Bart van der Leck and Piet Mondriaan; take for instance the print of fisher women and a man walking along a street.
The museum points out Giesen’s works are displayed ‘within context’ for the first time sine 1939. Too bad this small exhibition does not include works by Mondriaan, van der Leck and both Toorops. The shared interests, cross-influences and differences might have been even clearer.
Giesen’s portraits of the nine labourers are not the only interesting works. There are prints of a stranded German warship, fishermen and women, and a few wonderful drawings and prints of plants. These seem influenced by Japanese prints.
One of the touching prints is a small portrait. Giesen captured his fiancee’s face in black and white. The print easily fits into a hand, or pocket. One likes to imagine Giesen carrying it around with him, all day long and occasionally studying it.
Though visitors come here to admire the wonderful panorama created by Sientje and Willem Mesdag and friends; the few rooms with works by Giesen should not be skipped! Kate Deni 23rd May 2018
This exhibition runs till 28th October 2018.
Image courtesy Museum Panorama Mesdag