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De particuliere kunstverzameling van H. W. Mesdag

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There is no lack of literature on Hendrik Willem Mesdag (1831-1915) in his capacity of an art collector. Most of it focuses on the collection in the museum which the painter built in The Hague in 1886 and presented to the nation in 1903 (note 1). Little or no attention has hitherto been paid however to the large collection of fine and decorative art that was kept at the time of Mesdag's death on July 10 1915 in his house, which adjoined the museum. The greater and most important part of this collection was eventually sold in New York in 1920 and thereafter dispersed. It is not known what criteria Mesdag applied in consigning items from his collection to the museum or keeping them in his home. No clear-cut distinction can be made between the kind of objects in his house and the museum. In both locations the tone is set bv the Barbizon and Hague Schools. Concerned about the future of his most prestigious creation, the enormous Panorama of Scheveningen, better known as the Mesdag Panorama, Mesdag set up a limited company in 1910 for the purpose of maintaining and exploiting the Panorama and the building that housed it. He gave the shares to his future heirs. Under the terms of his Will, his house and its contents were to pass to the Panorama shareholders on his death. The nation had the first option to purchase, which suggests that Mesdag wanted his house and a major part of his private collection to go along with the museum. Since there was a war on, the government regarded the purchase as imprudent. Part of the inventory was sold among the family, but the most important items were put up for auction. The auctioneer Frederik Muller & Cie compiled an illustrated catalogue. Before it was ready, however, the American art dealer J. F. Henson made an offer for the whole collection. The auction was cancelled, and the catalogue was published in a limited edition of 125 numbered copies (note 3 1). After the war most of the collection was shipped to America and auctioned in New York. A completely new catalogue was printed for the occasion (note ; 35). The said catalogues and a series of photographs of the interior convey an impression of the size and quality of the collection in Mesdag's home. There Mesdag left an important collection of paintings and drawings from the Barbizon School, including fourteen drawings by Millet (figs.4 and 5). Antonio Mancini is amply represented in the museum with fifteen paintings and pastels, but that is a mere fraction of the total number of works by Mancini amassed by Mesdag. He naturally possessed a large amount of his own work, as well as paintings and drawings by other artists of the Hague School (figs. 6 and 7). His collection of 17th-century masters was less important. Even so, Mesdag had a marked preference for Dutch 16th and 17th-century artefacts, witness the oak panels, furniture and other items of decorative art in his studio (fig. 2), a taste he shared with painters like Bosboom, Weissenbruch and Jacob Maris (fig. 9). Some of the furniture was quasi Gothic or quasi Renaissance, with ornate fittings and a profusion of carving, in keeping with the 19th-century notion of these styles. The most advanced aspect of Mesdag's collection was a collection of modern china from the Rozenburg factory, designed by Colcnbrander.


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