Art, art and more art: museums of Den Haag

Portrait of Escher from the Nationaal Archief NL via Wikimedia Commons

Back in 2019 an exhibition catalogue of M.C. Escher works inspired me to write about the Alhambra in Granada. Escher is in my thoughts again as we approach the 50th anniversary of his death on 27 March, and I am reminded of a happy visit with my family ten years ago to the Escher museum in The Hague, Escher in Het Paleis. 2022 is a significant date for other museums in The Hague as well, and so this gives me the excuse to look in more detail at the wealth of art and museums in the Dutch capital, relating it to books in the UL.

The Escher museum is housed in the 18th century Lange Voorhout Palace which belonged to members of the Dutch Royal family for almost 150 years. It is now owned by the city and has been home to the Escher exhibition since 2002.

Escher in het paleis, picture via Wikimedia Commons

We have a good number of books about Escher and his work. The most recent one to mention is The amazing world of M.C. Escher (2015.13.153), the catalogue of the first major UK exhibition of Escher’s work. This was held in 2015 at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art before moving on to the Dulwich Picture Gallery. Around 100 works from the collection of the Gemeentemuseum (another museum in The Hague – more on this one later) were showcased.

The Mauritshuis, celebrating 200 years as a museum this year, is just a short walk from Escher in Het Paleis. This 17th century palace, built by Johan Maurits van Nassau-Siegen, was bought by the Dutch state in 1820 to house the royal collection of paintings and was open to the public from the beginning of 1822. With its waterside setting and grand interiors it is considered by many to be one of the most beautiful museums in the Netherlands.

Mauritshuis, picture by Zairon via Wikimedia Commons

Over the years the UL has acquired successive catalogues of the Mauritshuis’ works, the latest one being Royal Picture Gallery, Mauritshuis: a summary catalogue (S950.b.200.426), containing descriptions and images of more than 800 works. Girl with a pearl earring: Dutch paintings from the Mauritshuis (S950.a.201.1494) is a more recent publication linked to a 2013 touring exhibition in the United States of some of the most treasured works, coinciding with the Mauritshuis being closed for two years while a renovation and major expansion project was undertaken (a similar arrangement took place during renovation in the early 1980s). In addition to Vermeer’s masterpiece, the US tour also included the magnificent painting The Goldfinch by Fabritius – Donna Tartt’s novel of the same name, which features this painting, was also published in 2013.

When the Mauritshuis reopened in 2014 its area had doubled, with the acquisition of a nearby art deco building, Plein 26, linked by an underground tunnel. This transformation, along with the history of the building, is documented in the exhibition catalogue Mauritshuis: the building (S950.a.201.7086). 

Galerij Prins Willem V, picture by OSeveno via Wikimedia Commons

The royal painting collections had been formed over the years since the 1500s by various stadtholders  but it was Prince Willem V (1748-1806) who added to the disparate collections and brought them together into an art gallery open to the public from 1774. The collection was taken to Paris by the French in the 1790s and displayed in the Louvre. Those artworks that were recovered formed the basis of the 1822 Mauritshuis opening. Since 1977 the Galerij Prins Willem V has been reopened as part of the Mauritshuis collection and is now a recreation of the prince’s original gallery, with pictures covering the walls from floor to ceiling. This is featured in the booklet De Den Haag collectie: vijf eeuwen schilderkunst (1995.11.3559)

Museum Bredius, picture by Pvt pauline via Wikimedia Commons

Also included in this booklet is the nearby Museum Bredius, containing the private collection of Abraham Bredius, who was the director of the Mauritshuis for twenty years from 1889 during which time he was responsible for many of its best-known acquisitions. He used his own wealth to build up a collection of mainly 17th century Dutch paintings, and 100 years ago in 1922 his own 17th century house was opened as a museum, remaining open until 1985. Since 1990 the collection has been housed in an 18th century townhouse. Museum Bredius: catalogus van de schilderijen en tekeningen (S950.b.9.1538) gives more details of the collection.

Contemporaries of Bredius, Hendrik Willem Mesdag and his wife Sina also collected art that is now on display in the Mesdag Collection, mostly 19th century Dutch and French paintings (we have a somewhat old partial catalogue in French: 2017.8.2497). They were also responsible for creating the vast (14 metres high and 120 metres long) panoramic painting of Scheveningen and its beaches, completed in less than one year in 1881 (with the help of his students) and displayed cylindrically in the purpose-built Panorama Mesdag. Here is just one section of the painting:

Picture by Donarreiskoffer via Wikimedia Commons

All the museums I have written about so far are situated in or close to the city centre. A little further out of the city is the Kunstmuseum, known as the Gemeentemuseum until 2019 when a push to increase foreign visitors coupled with the difficulty of pronouncing the Dutch “g” led to a rebranding. The museum’s art deco building was the last major work of the architect Hendrik Petrus Berlage who died shortly before it opened in 1935. He and his work were celebrated in a 2010 exhibition for the 75th anniversary and the UL has the accompanying catalogue which has a view of the museum on its cover: (C200.a.3637). With its lofty entrance hall, courtyard, symmetry and rubber flooring I can see some similarities with the University Library which opened one year earlier. In 2014 the museum’s large courtyard was covered with a glass roof.

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In addition to fine art, the museum’s large collections also encompass musical instruments (now no longer on display), fashion and applied arts, including one of the largest collections of Delftware. We recently received the sixth volume, Koninklijk Blauw, of the set Delfts aardewerk: geschiedenis van een nationaal product (S408:73.a.9.12-17). This latest volume accompanied a 2020 exhibition on William and Mary’s Delftware.

Discovering the richness of The Hague’s museums has made me keen to visit them now that in-person visits are possible. I hope I have inspired you too but at least we have the next-best thing, books showing the collections.

Katharine Dicks

1 thought on “Art, art and more art: museums of Den Haag

  1. This Escher exhibition at the Houston Museum of Fine Arts is huge:
    https://www.mfah.org/exhibitions/virtual-realities-art-of-mc-escher
    The prints on display are of really astonishing quality compared to any reproduction I have seen, but the originality of the Michael S. Sachs Collection is that it contains also a lot of original works, including plates (lino, woodcut and lithographic stones) acquired from the Escher family, and in some cases variant print-outs (variations of ink colour and paper are astonishingly effective). There is also a good selection of the early Italian work, which (to me) is often much more interesting than some of the later geometrical work. The catalogue is not yet out. It will probably be worth acquiring if only for these reasons.

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