One of the most wonderful sights inThe Hague is the Panorama Mesdag. Named after Hendrik Willem Mesdag, you expect this 360 view of Scheveningen and The Hague to be painted by him.
However this is not the case as is made clear by the exhibition ‘The Painters of the Panorama Mesdag’ in the occasion of the 140th anniversary of the painting.
When Mesdag accepted the commission, he realized he couldn’t fill the 1680 square meters (120 x 14 m) all by himself and certainly not within the four months he had been given. Therefore he looked for help from a number of colleagues whom he selected for their specialities and to whom the Panorama Mesdag Museum now dedicates this exhibition.
The entire sky section was painted by Théophile de Bock who was known for his broad strokes. It may not have been the most exciting part of the Panorama but it it certainly gave the landscape the right atmosphere. In a letter to his friend Vincent van Gogh, De Bock was very proud to have participated in the project, although he didn’t get much credit for his work.
The youngest collaborator was George Hendrik Breitner who stood at the beginning of his career. Being specialized in horses and the military, Mesdag hired him to paint the cavalry exercising on the beach. The result was highly appreciated and the Rijksmuseum immediately purchased a work by Breitner (Yellow Riders) which is still in the collection of this museum.
The third participant was Bernard Blommers who painted some figures, such as the intimate scene of a fisher woman and her child standing near the road that runs along the beach, watching the fishing boats known as ‘bomschuiten’ (flat bottoms) on the shoreline. Blommers specialised in this type of scenes and although his contribution was modest, he probably did Mesdag a friendly favour by adding these few figures.
The final and probably the most important was Sientje Mesdag-van Houten, Mesdag’s wife and famous painter. She was responsible for the dunes behind Scheveningen village, right where now the Statenkwartier is located. She most certainly did not live in her husbands shadow in her day and her work was highly sought after. Her participation in this project, definitely enhanced the value of the painting. In the hall way running up to the cylindrical panorama, you can enjoy many of her works, ranging from portraits to landscapes and flower still lives.
On the other side of the wall of the hall way, the timeline of the Panorama Mesdag takes you from the very first ideas on the phenomenon of panoramas to the creation of Panorama Mesdag, of course culminating in the wonderful actual Panorama itself.
Even though I was born and raised in The Hague, seeing this huge painting around me always takes my breath away. I am feeling as if I am actually standing on the windswept dunes looking out over the sea and land, trying to figure out what is still there and what is not.
If you have not visited the Panorama Mesdag yet, you couldn’t have picked a better time: you will help this private museum to survive to see many more birthdays to come! Wendy Fossen 7th July 2021