Restoration of Panorama Mesdag in The Hague is underway

Restorer Jorinde Koenen at work on the Panorama

Preparations for a major cleaning of the world-famous Panorama of Mesdag have been underway since May. Two restorers remove dirt from the huge 1,680m2 canvas and carry out local maintenance and restoration work. No less than three months have been allocated to the job – and all this to be done under the gaze of visitors to the Panorama.

The process consists of three steps: the layer of dust is removed with a special vacuum cleaner. Greasy soot particles are then removed with a suitable sponge. This sponge rolls up the dirt, like an eraser. Then a soft brush sweeps away these particles. In this way, the colors of the cloth are returned to their original, bright state. Thanks to this treatment, the canvas and paint are better protected against future dirt. The colour layer of the painting is carefully monitored and updated where the top layer has discoloured. Any gaps visible from the dune are filled and integrated with retouches. This year the focus of the work is mainly on conservation, including careful control and documentation of the current condition of the canvas.

The Panorama is cleaned, checked and treated where necessary every five to seven years. This is necessary to preserve the Panorama so that future generations are assured of a visit to Mesdags Panorama.

Jorinde Koenen, chief restorer of Museum Panorama Mesdag explained, “For retouching we use, among other things, special pencils with a high concentration of pigment and therefore a lot of colour strength and a very high lightfastness. When unscrambling areas where the paint has become discoloured due to old leaks, dry materials are preferred, because the specific properties of the Panorama cloth which is matte, no varnish, very porous and absorbent, but also because of the enormous surface area”.

Museum director Minke Schat added, “It is an honourable task to keep the heritage of the artist couple Mesdag accessible to the largest possible audience for as long as possible. Proper conservation of the 143-year-old Panorama canvas is therefore of the utmost importance. We are pleased and grateful that this project has been made possible by the support of the Friends of Mesdag, the Zadelhoff Cultural Fund and BAM Infra Nederland”.

The cleaning of the Panorama cloth can be seen live . While the visitor imagines himself on the Seinpostduin with a view over Scheveningen in 1881, one can simultaneously switch to the restorers who, close to the canvas, suddenly look like giants by breaking the optical illusion. A special experience that can only be seen once every five to seven years. The restoration work will take place in the months of June, July and August. Museum Panorama Mesdag will remain open to the public during the maintenance.

The Panorama’s last maintenance was in the summer of 2017. The entire canvas was cleaned and removed of dust and soot particles. However, this was not the first large-scale maintenance. In the late 1980s, the world-famous Panorama of Scheveningen was in poor condition. The canvas showed considerable wear and action had to be taken quickly. A major restoration followed in the early 1990s. A large team of restorers, art historians and technical experts joined forces to ensure that this artistic highlight of Mesdag is not lost.

The Panorama was painted by Hendrik Willem Mesdag, a marine painter of the Hague School. The 360o panorama is a cylindrical painting housed in a purpose-built museum in The Hague, Also known as a cyclorama the Panorama is more than fourteen meters high and about forty meters in diameter making circumference of 120 meters.

From an observation gallery, resembling an old bandstand, in the centre of the room the cylindrical perspective creates the illusion that the viewer is on a high sand dune overlooking the sea, beaches and village of Scheveningen in the late 19th century. A foreground of fake terrain around the viewing gallery hides the base of the painting and makes the illusion more convincing.

Mesdag was a marine painter of the Hague School.  in 1880 he was engaged by a Belgian company to paint the panorama, which with the assistance of his wife Sientje Mesdag-van Houten and some student painters (including George Hendrik Breitner), was completed by 1881. However, the vogue for panoramas was coming to an end, and the company went bankrupt in 1886. Mesdag purchased the panorama and met its losses from his own pocket. The panorama is now the oldest surviving panorama in its original location.