7 March 2019
An exhibition exploring the Mesdag’s extensive collection of Colenbrander ceramics. On display at The Mesdag Collection in The Hague from 8 March to 23 June 2019.
From 8 March to 23 June 2019, Mesdag & Colenbrander: A Shared Fascination with Ceramics will be on display at The Mesdag Collection in The Hague. This exhibition focuses on the impressive collection of Colenbrander ceramics amassed by the Mesdags.
Theo Colenbrander (1841-1930) is considered one of the Netherlands’ first industrial designers. Hendrik Willem Mesdag and his wife Sientje Mesdag-van Houten (1831-1915 and 1834-1909 respectively) enjoyed Colenbrander’s contemporary designs and were well ahead of their time when they acquired his pottery for their house and museum.
At the time of Hendrik Willem Mesdag’s death in 1915, this collection of ceramics comprised approximately 130 objects and sets. The private collection was subsequently split up. This exhibition brings part of this collection back to the former home of the Mesdags and offers a detailed exploration of the connection between the Mesdags and Colenbrander.
This exhibition is guest curated by renowned photographers Erik and Petra Hesmerg, who are also collectors of art and design. They photographed the most significant pieces for the accompanying publication and selected the finest pieces for inclusion in the exhibition.
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Hendrik Willem Mesdag and Sientje Mesdag-van Houten were not only both painters, they were also keen art collectors. The pair collected everything that they thought was attractive: in addition to paintings, they also collected applied arts. Colenbrander’s ceramics held a special place in their collection. The Mesdags were among the first to acquire Colenbrander’s pottery.
Theo Colenbrander started out as an architect, but developed his talents to become a draughtsman and designer. He designed ceramics for various earthenware factories, his designs instantly recognisable by their vivid colour combinations, swirling lines and intriguing patterns. Colenbrander’s work did not go unnoticed by the Mesdags. The three knew each other from the Pulchri Studio, an artists’ association in The Hague, and Hendrik Willem Mesdag also owned shares in the Haagsche Plateelbakkerij Rozenburg, a prestigious local pottery where Colenbrander was head designer between 1884 and 1889.
The Mesdags acquired Colenbrander’s work for both their home and Museum Mesdag (now The Mesdag Collection), which opened its doors adjacent to their home in 1887. The Mesdags were the most significant collectors of Colenbrander’s work.
Themes in the exhibition
The Rozenburg factory sold Colenbrander’s pottery for a period of just five years, as the progressive designs only appealed to a select audience. The Mesdags were among this group of enthusiasts, and acquired some 130 objects and sets in a short space of time. The works from the museum collection are still in The Mesdag Collection, but following the death of Hendrik Willem Mesdag in 1915, parts of the private collection were sold off. Mesdag & Colenbrander brings some of these pieces back to the Mesdags’ former home.
The exhibition features a large number of works from the Rozenburg period, recognisable by the contemporary forms and decorations on the vases and mugs. Pieces from Colenbrander’s time at the Ram pottery in Arnhem are also on display, as is a carpet after his design.
Mesdag & Colenbrander also explores the creative process using a large number of so-called ‘biscuit models’. An extraordinary element of this process is that instead of drawing on paper, Colenbrander – who said his designs came to him as visions – applied his designs directly to ‘biscuits’ using pencil and watercolour paint. The factory painters could then copy these test pieces. To conclude, the exhibition explores the connection between the Mesdags and Colenbrander.
In addition to objects from the museum collection, the exhibition also features numerous loans from the Rijksmuseum Amsterdam and the Gemeentemuseum Den Haag.
Through the eyes of the photographer
This exhibition is guest curated by Erik and Petra Hesmerg, photographers and collectors of art and design. The Hesmergs are a photography duo specialising in shooting three-dimensional objects. They selected the pieces for the exhibition and photographed them for the accompanying publication.
Petra and Erik: ‘We positioned the vases, plates and mugs in long display cases to resemble a mountain landscape. We are not concerned about the chronology or the themes. We set out to create a visual spectacle celebrating the diversity, modernity and wealth of details’.
The Hesmergs’ previous photography commissions include those for the Gemeentemuseum Den Haag, the Guggenheim Museum, the Louvre Abu Dhabi, Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen and the Design Museum Den Bosch.
The exhibition is accompanied by the publication Mesdag & Colenbrander. The book describes the Mesdag’s extraordinary collection of Colenbrander’s ceramics and discusses the colourful and attractive style and innovative designs associated with it.
Author: Titus M. Eliëns, a specialist in the Dutch decorative arts. Photography: Erik and Petra Hesmerg. Dutch/English publication, 96 pages, richly illustrated, € 19.95.
Published by: Van Gogh Museum. Bookstore edition: Waanders Uitgevers, Zwolle. ISBN 978-94-6262-246-3.