Hendrik Willem Mesdag

(1831 - 1915)

Hendrik Willem Mesdag was born in Groningen on 25th February 1831, the son of Johanna van Giffen and Klaas Mesdag, a merchant and banker. Hendrik and his brother Taco grew up to work in the family business, but were encouraged to paint by their father, an amateur artist. Hendrik married Sientje van Houten in 1856 and, through the death of her father in 1864 inherited sufficient funds to enable him to retire from his father’s firm to paint. Mesdag visited the artist’s colony in the town of Oosterbeek, prior to studying in Brussels in 1866 with his cousin Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema (1865-1940) and the landscape painter Willem Roelofs (1822-1897).

In 1868, accompanied by his brother, Mesdag visited the island of Norderny, one of the German Frisian Islands, it was to prove a formative experience, he returned to Brussels with a fascination for the sea and the following year moved to The Hague, renting a room in nearby Scheveningen, where he could study and paint the North Sea.

In 1870 Mesdag submitted two of his seascapes to the Paris Salon, being awarded a gold medal, a point which marked his arrival as a highly regarded artist. In 1871 the Mesdag’s only son died and Hendrik and his wife immersed themselves in painting and the artistic life in The Hague. In 1876, Mesdag was instrumental in the founding of the Holland Drawing Society, remaining president until 1885. In 1879 Mesdag was commissioned to paint his renowned “Panorama” which was unveiled in the building on the Zeestraat in 1881, he had been assisted by his wife, de Bock, George Breitner and Bernardus Blommers. In 1886 Mesdag bought the “Panorama”, which remains one of the most popular sights in The Hague.

Mesdag’s career flourished in Holland, throughout Europe and in North America. In 1876 he had won a bronze medal in the Centennial Exhibition and in 1902 exhibited his works in the United States; in Canada Mesdag and The Hague School enjoyed huge success.

Mesdag was a popular and influential figure in Dutch artistic circles and beyond, a collector of French Barbizon and German paintings and a patron of the Italian, Antonio Mancini. In 1889 Mesdag was elected President of the Art Society Pulchri Studio, a post he retained until 1907. In 1903 he and his wife Sientje donated their collection and the building in which it was housed to the State.

Mesdag died in The Hague, 10th July 1915, a widely respected artist, friend and colleague to numerous contemporaries, including artists as diverse as Jozef (1824-1911) and Isaac Israëls (1865-1934), Alma-Tadema, Roelofs, and a member of the Legion of Honour.

His works can be found in museums in: Amsterdam; Arnhem; Berlin; Brussels; Bucharest; Dordrecht; Düsseldorf; Frankfurt; Haarlem; The Hague; Kampen; Leeuwarden; Middleburg; Munich; Rotterdam and Utrecht.