TALKING TREES at the Mesdag Collection in The Hague

Christiaan Kuitwaard Amerongse Bos the hollow beech 2021 oil on panel 20 x 29 cm Private collection

Homage to trees in paintings and poems.

The Mesdag Collection in The Hague has a new, fascinating exhibition combining paintings and poems.  Talking Trees  expresses two contemporary artists’ worries about the heedless exploitation of Dutch forests, while paying homage to trees and woods as inspiration.

Artists Christiaan Kuitwaard and Jan Kleefstra started their joint project in September 2022. A year long, both visited woods – mostly in the northern parts of the Netherlands. At a spot, chosen by one or the other, they  captured the impression they experienced in oils (Kuitwaard), as well as words (Kleefstra).

Their weekly visits resulted in over fifty oil sketches and free verse poems. Neither shared their creations till the very end of this project, when each poem and painting were joined. The works are exhibited chronologically, capturing not just different woods but also the changing seasons and weather.

While exploring this exhibition, visitors may come across views that already no longer exist as painted during this project. Shocking proof, showing the artists’ concerns are right.

Both artists are not just inspired by trees. Kuitwaard mentioned being inspired by artists including Constable, Whistler and Canadian Tom Thompson. Kleefstra mentioned he reads a lot, including poetry by Samuel Beckett.

In the exhibition, small works by The Hague School members show how 19th century artists were also inspired by trees. Willem  Mesdag actively tried to save parts of the landscape around The Hague. Of course, Théodore Rousseau’s Massacre of the Innocents (1845), capturing the exploitation of the Barbizon forest and owned by the Mesdags, expresses the same concerns as Kuitwaard and Kleefstra have.

The book accompanying this joint project is called Boswerk (Forest Work, 2023). It contains all the exhibited works by Kuitwaard and Kleefstra. Added to the oil sketches and poems, are texts by author and biodiversity promoter Annelies Henstra. Unfortunately, it is only available in Dutch.   Kate  26th March 2024

The exhibition continues until 21st of July 2024.