A group of Dutch, realist painters working in The Hague in the second half of the nineteenth century, painting in subdued colours to convey the atmosphere and impression of moment in their works. Members included Anton Mauve, Johannes Bosboom, Joseph Israels, Jacob Maris, and his brothers Matthijs and Willem.
Origins of the Style
The Dutch Hague School was strongly influenced by France’s Barbizon painters, from whom they learned their most prominent ideas. Set in a forest area near Fontainebleau, Barbizon was a hotbed of creativity in the early nineteenth century, attracting the country’s most important artists including Theodore Rousseau, Jean-Francois Millet, Charles Francoise Daubigny and Jean Baptiste Camille Corot. Artists were attracted to the forest’s sombre colours and diffused light, which they sought to capture by painting from life en plein air, with free, expressive brushstrokes.
Spurred on by their activities, a group of Dutch painters including Jacob Maris, Gerard Bilders and Anton Mauve began painting in the woods around Oosterbeek, now often referred to as the ‘Dutch Barbizon’. Much like their French contemporaries, the young Dutch artists reacted against traditional academic teaching methods, particularly the penchant for an idealised, fictional reality. Instead they aspired to paint nature as they saw it directly in front of them, capturing mood, light and the ever shifting patterns of the weather.
Many of the artists who spent time in Oosterbeek later congregated in The Hague in around 1860, where they would form the foundations of The Hague School, with members including Jacob Maris with his brothers Matthijs and Willem, Mauve, Bilders, Jozef Israels Johan Hendrick and Johannes Bosboom.
The ‘Grey School’
The Hague School style that emerged in the 1860s took on a style reminiscent of the Barbizon painters and French Realism, with sombre, muted colours and hazy atmospheres. One critic wrote in 1875 of The Hague School predilection for ‘bad weather effects and an overall grey mood’, prompting their colloquial name, ‘The Grey School’. Bilders even wrote of his preference for ‘the impression of a warm, fragrant grey’, which he infused into his paintings by mixing all his colours with grey paint.
Dutch landscape was the dominant subject in most of their paintings, with a focus on the meeting of land and water across broad, flat areas of marshy land. Like many of the French Realists they also painted rural people, seen in Maris’ A Dutch Boy and Girl Walking in a Field, 1899, and The Shepherd, or those performing backbreaking work, seen in Mauve’s Field Labour, 1888 and Israels’ Bringing Home the Calf, 1899. They also captured the changing Dutch landscape as it was overtaken by the building of railways, canals and bridges.
Throughout the 1870s and 1880s in France Impressionism’s vibrant colour and energy was quickly beginning to overshadow the sombre, serious tones of French Realism. Under the influence of Impressionism, many Hague School paintings became increasingly lighter and brighter, with an increasing focus on vast expanses of sky that seem to overpower the land below them. Hendrick 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.' Josef Israel’s son Isaac was a leader in this change of pace, painting with fresher, brighter colours and looser handling of paint.
Before moving to France to pursue Post-Impressionism, Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh began his career with The Hague School. He was taught by Mauve in The Hague in the early 1870s, who encouraged him to paint portraits, and his dimly lit, earthy coloured peasant family paintings were strongly influenced by similar subjects in Josef Israel’s work, including The Head of a Peasant Woman, 1885.
Hague School ideas were developed further by the Amsterdam Impressionists in the 1870s, with members including Isaac Israels, George Breitner and Jan Toorop. Like the French Impressionists they painted life as it unfolded in the increasingly industrialised city, as well as depicting labourers, servants and poor families. Scottish Pictorialist James Craig Annan travelled to the Netherlands in the 1890s to capture the changing landscape, portraying ordinary working people in an empathic manner reminiscent of The Hague School painters.
In the 1880s the Glasgow Boys in Scotland were also influenced by both the Barbizon School and The Hague School, with their muted palettes and scenes of everyday working life. They painted en plein air with fresh, lively brushwork, invigorating Scottish art with a vital vibrancy and energy that would influence generations to come.