Discover the landscapes, portraits and still lifes of Sientje Mesdag-van Houten and the famous seascapes of Hendrik Willem Mesdag in 'Sharing the Spotlight. The Mesdags in their Museum.'
The artist couple Hendrik Willem Mesdag (1831-1915) and Sientje Mesdag-van Houten (1834-1909) spent a lifetime building a collection. Both were artists, collectors and entrepreneurs.
In 2023, it is 120 years since they donated their beautiful collection to the State of the Netherlands. To celebrate, you can now view the Mesdags’ entire body of work in their own museum!
The exhibition shows how the Mesdags presented their own paintings and drawings alongside the works and objects by French and Dutch artists that were part of their collection. What message were they trying to convey, and what does it say about them?
'Without my husband I would never have become a painter, and without me he would probably not have become a painter.'
Sientje Mesdag, in an interview in the Wereldkroniek, 21 April 1906.
A Model for Feminism
Sientje Mesdag- van Houten was well into her thirties when she started to paint. Family friend and fellow artist Jozef Israëls described her as ‘a model for feminism.’ She was one of the few female members of Pulchri Studio, the renowned artists’ society.
Sientje exhibited her work in the Netherlands and abroad. On occasion, her husband arranged this for her, including her pieces with his own work.
'Popular – I know that my work isn’t popular, but I also know: many people appreciate it.'
Sientje Mesdag- van Houten, quoted in De Amsterdammer, weekblad voor Nederland, December 1904.
Marine Painter Mesdag
Up until the age of 35, Mesdag only drew and painted in his spare time. He worked as a banker at his father’s brokerage firm in Groningen.
A sizeable inheritance changed all of this. Encouraged by his wife Sientje to follow his dreams, Mesdag seized his chance and became an artist.
'I am thirty-five years old. I have a wife and child. I have been trained for commerce but I am not suited to that. I am a painter. Help me.'
Mesdag in a letter to his cousin, the painter Lourens Alma Tadema, 1866.
There were many landscape painters at work in this period, and Mesdag wished to distinguish himself from the rest. During a holiday on the German Wadden island of Norderney in 1869, he decided to become a marine painter. In less than a year he achieved his first major success when he won an important prize.