Artworks and Artists of The Hague School

Progression of Art
Gerard Bilders: Koeien bij een plas (Cows at a Puddle) (1856-58)

Koeien bij een plas (Cows at a Puddle)

Artist: Gerard Bilders

It was through the exhibition of superior landscapes such as Cows at a Puddle that Bilders was able to launch the Hague School in 1860. This meadow landscape, probably painted at Oosterbeek, depicts several cows gathered at a large puddle, two of them standing in water, while three others rest on the grass, their forms huddled in an inverted triangle that creates visual movement between the open horizon and the pond. Framed by copse and shrubbery, as well as a fence overgrown with vines on the right, the scene conveys a mood of tranquil seclusion, enhanced by the grey tonalities. Lit with reflections and shadows cast by the long grasses, the pond in the foreground is more sharply focused than the rest of the soft and hazy image.

This work is an outstanding example of Bilders's preference for "a colored, fragrant warm grey" that captured the light of his native landscape, and in so doing, came very close to conveying the experience of actually standing in the landscape. What Bilders described as van Ruisdael's "landscape as a whole" principle, became fundamental to his own artistic worldview. As he wrote in 1861, "It is not my aim and object to paint a cow for the cow's sake or a tree for the tree's, but by means of the whole - to create a beautiful and huge impression which nature sometimes creates, also with most simple means".

Oil on panel - Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, Netherlands

Jozef Israëls: Kinderen der zee (Children of the Sea) (1872)

Kinderen der zee (Children of the Sea)

Artist: Jozef Israëls

This beach scene shows four children, probably from the same fishing family, as they wade through the shallows of the sea in thrall of a toy boat. Unified in their play, the group conveys a sense of intimacy and familial togetherness. The oldest child carries the youngest piggyback, while another child, carrying a branch, holds onto his hand. A young girl stands to the left of the boat, its tiny white sail unfurled. Here, subtle grey tonalities are enriched with shades of blue, white, and light brown. The ocean's breaking white caps echo in the white head coverings and smocks of the children and in the boat's sail; they are in perfect balance with their natural environment (as the painting's title confirms: "children of the sea").

Though he had an extensive academic art education, Israëls followed the example set by Jean François Millet at the Barbizon School and settled in rural surroundings: in his case a small fishing village near Haarlem. Indeed, Israëls was dubbed "the Dutch Millet" and became a leading artist of what was be called "the second Dutch Golden Age". This painting was one of his favorites, and he described it as "an unicum" (unique example) because, in his words, "few pictures by me, have so many figures, busy in the subject". He was also celebrated for his engravings. As the art historian A. M. Hind wrote, his "few plates of peasant life, strong in line, powerful in chiaroscuro, rank directly with his paintings in the expression of the depths of human feeling, in which he was so worthy a successor of Rembrandt". The Venice Biennale honored Israëls with a retrospective exhibition following his death in 1911. He was a noted influence on van Gogh, and his son, Isaac, inherited his father's mantle as one of the leading next generation Dutch painters.

Oil on canvas - Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, Netherlands

Anton Mauve: Morgenrit langs het strand (Morning Ride on the Beach) (1876)

Morgenrit langs het strand (Morning Ride on the Beach)

Artist: Anton Mauve

This painting depicts a group of upper-class equestrians, riding away from the viewer, as their horses meander down a sandy path toward the beach at Scheveningen. Two men, fashionably dressed in top hats, jackets and jodhpurs, flank a woman riding sidesaddle, while another man, similarly dressed, is some distance ahead. Three white bathing cabins, along with a few bathers dressed in blue, are visible on the beach. Though a stylish nonchalance marks the riders and the scene, the art historian M.E. Weiseman noted that "An unconventional detail, horse droppings in the foreground, attests [to Mauve's] commitment to realism". At the same time the treatment is impressionistic; broad expressive brushstrokes creating the shimmer of light on the horses' flanks and on the moving bright haze of a seaside morning. Mauve, with the other Hague School artists, attempted, in Weiseman's words, "to recreate the natural effects of light and atmosphere by depicting not only isolated weather conditions, but also more subtle seasonal variations".

Mauve was married to Vincent van Gogh's cousin, and in 1881 van Gogh moved to The Hague to learn painting from him. Following Mauve's death, van Gogh was to dedicate his Pink Peach Tree in Blossom (Reminiscence of Mauve) (1888), which he described as "Probably the best landscape I have done" to him.

Oil on canvas - Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, Netherlands

Jacob Maris: Bluff-bowed Fishing Boat on the Beach at Scheveningen (c. 1885)
c. 1885

Bluff-bowed Fishing Boat on the Beach at Scheveningen

Artist: Jacob Maris

This landscape foregrounds a single fishing boat, its sails furled, resting on the beach where it has been towed by the two horses harnessed to its hull. The triangle of the mast and rigging creates a vertical movement, up toward the sky's gray clouds breaking into small patches of clearing. The cold gray Atlantic extends toward a low horizon of small white caps and sea birds wheeling in the air above the sails of a distant fishing boat. Gray predominates, as subtle gradations of the color both unify and distinguish the reflective water, the stolid boat, the extending ocean and the expansive sky. The tired horses, the single old fisherman sitting on the boat, and the vessel's gray-worn appearance convey the atmosphere of solitary labor, though this is lightened somewhat by the uplift of the sky.

Maris often painted the bluff-bowed fishing boats of Scheveningen, a small fishing village on the North Sea coast, not far from The Hague, in order to explore atmospheric effects. While he undertook preparatory work outdoors, due to fluctuations in the light, he often finished the paintings in his studio, because, in the artist's own words, he felt the need "to exaggerate in order to learn about the power of colours".

Oil on canvas - Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, Netherlands

Johan Hendrik Weissenbruch: Beach Sight (1895)

Beach Sight

Artist: Johan Hendrik Weissenbruch

A limpid grey tonality permeates this watercolor in which a boat with two masts rests in profile along the edge of the sea while three small human figures occupy the center frame. The tidal pool, partially reflecting the boat's sails, and luminous with a bluish light that reflects the color of the sky, draws the viewers' attention up toward the figures and the vast expanse of the ocean beyond. The lines of the ship, the coastline, and the low-lying horizon, convey a sense of nature's expanse which is further emphasized by the inclusion of the scene's human figures. Painted with fluid and delicate brushstrokes, with an effect that sometimes resembles a wash, the limited color palette creates an atmospheric effect which is dominated by the sky. As Weissenbruch wrote, "The sky in a painting, that is what is most important! Sky and light are the great magicians. The sky determines what the painting is. Painters can never pay too much attention to the sky".

Born into an artistic family, Weissenbruch was a lifelong denizen of The Hague - with the exception of one notable excursion (aged seventy) to France where he painted Forest View near Barbizon (1900). He undertook drawing lessons when he was sixteen and by the age of nineteen he had enrolled as a part-time student at the Royal Academy of Arts, producing works in a Romantic style before becoming one of the leading lights of the Hague School. The contrast between sky and water would become something of a motif in his work which he rendered through his career through both oils and watercolors.

Watercolor - Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, Netherlands

Willem Maris: Ducks (c. 1880-94)
c. 1880-94


Artist: Willem Maris

In thick grass, its green brought alive with daubs of color, a pair of ducks rest with two ducklings, visible immediately behind them, and two others, almost hidden in the dark pond behind them. The duck in middle, lighter in color, is resplendent with light, an effect enhanced by the diagonal line created by the pointed fronds reaching out above the dark pond and carried into the line of the approaching ducklings and the echoing bright patch on its mate's back. The verdant green was a distinguishing character of Maris's style, created by impasto touches of pigment and loose brushwork that creates a soft, almost misty, effect.

The youngest of the Maris brothers, Willem described his early artistic beginning thus: "From the time I was young I worked outdoors. Even before I was twelve I would sit in the meadow and watch the cows before and after school. As my brothers were older than me, naturally I got part of my training from them [...] In the summer I always studied outdoors, and in the winter in the stable". Pieter Stortenbeker, known for his painting of cattle, also advised him, and Maris's first work was Cows on the Heath (1862), painted following his visit to Oosterbeek where he met Mauve and Gerard Bilders.

Throughout his career, Maris continued to paint primarily meadow landscapes, often with cows, and then later ducks and chickens. He insisted however, "I don't paint cows, but rather effects of light" and that that preoccupation with light informed his development from his early mood pieces to his vibrant coloring in later life. His brushwork also became looser, and included impasto, with the result that he was dubbed the Hague School's "Impressionist".

Oil on canvas - Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, Netherlands

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Content compiled and written by Rebecca Seiferle

Edited and revised, with Summary and Accomplishments added by Antony Todd

"The Hague School Movement Overview and Analysis". [Internet]. .
Content compiled and written by Rebecca Seiferle
Edited and revised, with Summary and Accomplishments added by Antony Todd
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First published on 21 Sep 2020. Updated and modified regularly
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