Panorama Mesdag Museum (re)discovers Mesdag’s earliest drawing

Hendrik Willem Mesdag Petunia 1840. Pencil on paper 13.6 x 17.2cms. Museum Panorama Mesdag

During a large-scale research and conservation project in Museum Panorama Mesdag, a drawn petunia that Hendrik Willem Mesdag made at the age of 9 was rediscovered. The young Mesdag drew the flower on the occasion of the thirteenth birthday of his sister, Ellegonda. 

Young talent  

It was previously believed that a drawing that Hendrik Willem Mesdag made as a 12-year-old was his earliest surviving work, but the rediscovered drawing is three years older. Mesdag drew the flower in a very detailed manner. Like a biologist, he reproduced each leaf vein with great accuracy. “This drawing was pasted into a 20th-century album, clearly of a later date than the drawing. In order to better preserve the work, it has been removed from the album. Only then did we see the date on the drawing -1840- and the inscription on the back. It’s a very nice discovery. It is interesting to see what a particularly steady hand Mesdag already had at this age and his good observation skills are striking. With this find we can show even better Mesdag’s development as an artist in our museum.” – Suzanne Veldink, head of museum affairs Museum Panorama Mesdag. 

Art loving family

Mesdag’s brother Taco also made a drawing for his sister. On the back of each work is written ‘On the 13th Birthday of Ellegonda’. Mesdag came from an art-loving family; his father was a collector and a member of the Groningen Minerva association and at home they drew a lot. The drawings were probably created on one of the Mesdag family’s many drawing evenings. This family activity was common in the nineteenth century within the circles in which Hendrik Willem grew up and has long been a tradition among the Mesdags. Both Hendrik Willem and Taco would grow into professional artists. Family remained important to Hendrik Willem. It is not without reason that he left the Panorama Mesdag Museum to his cousins.

In an interview with Mesdag in the Nieuwe Rotterdamsche Courant in 1906, he spoke about this childhood memory: “As a boy I had a great passion for drawing, and that was cultivated at our home in Groningen, because father had a nice painting cabinet. , so that we often all sat together with paper and pencil.”

Museum director Minke Schat: “It is our mission to fulfill Hendrik Willem Mesdag’s wish to preserve the museum and collection ‘in the long run for the future and to share it with the largest possible audience’. The artist couple Mesdag-van Houten has left a large collection of personal works and archives. Part of this collection has not yet been fully mapped out. It is very valuable and important that we have been able to start research into these works with the support of the Mondriaan Fund. Museum Panorama Mesdag is of (inter)national importance and is part of the Netherlands Collection – also as a private collection. We are pleased that we can still make discoveries of art-historical value with this ‘treasure tombs in the collection’. 

20th April 2022