Sunday, August 30, 2015

Day 18: Gemeentemuseum: Art of the Modern Era

The Dutch word "gemeente" means municipality, so the Gemeentemuseum is the municipal museum for The Hague, a major city and the capital of the Netherlands. Housed in an architectural landmark, it has a significant collection of international art of the 20th century, and it is the only place where you can see a survey of Dutch art of the modern era.

The building was designed by Hendrik Petrus Berlage, who is considered the "Father of Modern architecture" in the Netherlands. After a visit to the U.S. in 1911, he became a follower of Frank Lloyd Wright and helped to disseminate Wright's views in Europe. The Gemeentemuseum was built in the 1930s in the Art Deco style.

Entrance to Gemeentemuseum by Hendrik Petrus Berlage
It has a covered walkway.

In the interior, a covered courtyard provides both seating for the cafeteria and a gift shop.

Courtyard of the Gemeentemuseum

Dutch Art in the Modern Era

After you have studied the Dutch Masters of the Golden Age of the 1600s—Frans Hals, Rembrandt, Vermeer, Jan Steen, Judith Leyster, and Rachel Ruysch—you begin to wonder, "And then what?" The answer is, "Not much, at least for the 1700s."

After the 1600s, economic and political problems diminished activity in art. The fine arts enjoyed a revival around 1830, a time now referred to as the Romantic period in Dutch painting.

The Romantic period

Andreas Schelfhout was known for his landscape paintings. This one seems very traditional, but it is modern in depicting a steam train, a new invention, in the distance.

Andreas Schelfhout, 1787-1870
Panorama - Train in Landscape, 1846
Schelfhout provided training to Johan Hendrik Weissenbruch and Johan Barthold Jongkind.

Johan Barthold Jongkind is better known than most 19th century Dutch painters because he lived in Paris much of his life, and his work was strongly influenced by Impressionism. This picture shows workers wielding sledge-hammers atop a building that is being demolished; the debris is being carried away by a horse-drawn cart.

Johan Barthold Jongkind, 1819-1891
Demolition of the Rue des Francs-Bourgeois, Quartier Mouffetard, 1868

The Hague School

In the 1860s, a number of Dutch landscape artists with similar aesthetic values migrated to The Hague. They often imitated the landscapes of the Golden Age, and they tended to go for muted coloration.

Several traditional landscapes by Johan Hendrik Weissenbruch were exhibited at the museum. He was a great admirer of Jacob van Ruisdael, the Golden Age painter, whose work he saw at an early age at the Mauritshuis in The Hague.

Jan Hendrik Weissenbruch, 1824-1903
View of Haarlem, c. 1845
Jan Hendrik Weissenbruch, 1824-1903
Landscape near Noorden, 1891
Several traditional seascapes by Hendrik Mesdag were on exhibit. Mesdag moved to the Hague in 1868 in order to paint the sea, and his house is now a museum, though we haven't seen it.

Hendrik Willem Mesdag, 1831-1915
Return with the Catch, 1895
Jozef Israëls was highly respected in his time. He was unusual for adding fully realized figures to his landscapes. Many of his paintings suggest sorrowful situations and sympathy for the working class. Here the young wife of a fisherman mends the nets while she waits for him on a lonely dune.

Jozef Israëls, 1824-1911
Young Fisherman’s Wife in Dunes, pre-1863
Anton Mauve was a friend of Jozef Israëls and moved to The Hague a few years after he did. He was married to a cousin of Vincent van Gogh, and he was a major influence on the younger artist. Van Gogh spent three weeks at Mauve's studio in 1881, and with Mauve's guidance he made his first experiments in oil painting. Though he used the muted palette of The Hague School, his compositions were more modern and more dramatic. In the next painting, a team of horses has been used to pull a large fishing boat out of the ocean, perhaps for repair.

Anton Mauve, 1838-1888
Fishing Boat on the Beach, 1882
In the next painting it's interesting to observe that sheep fleece is far from being "as white as snow."

Anton Mauve, 1838-1888
Flock of Sheep with the Shepherd in the Snow, c. 1888

Vincent van Gogh

Into this rather drab and traditional history suddenly drops the modern and vibrant work of Vincent van Gogh. The Gemeentemuseum does not have many examples of his work, because they are in the van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam and the Kröller Müller in Otterlo. They do have this nice garden piece.

Vincent van Gogh, 1853-1990
Garden at Arles, 1888

Jan Toorop

Van Gogh had to move to France to discover the bright colors and full sunshine that he is noted for. Jan Toorop was born in the Dutch East Indies, present-day Indonesia, so he had youthful experience with rich light and color. He studied in Delft and Amsterdam, and lived in The Hague part of his life. His style was strongly influenced by Pointillism, but he also used some curving lines and odd perspectives based on Indonesian art. Jan is a man's name in The Netherlands.

Jan Toorop, 1858-1928
November Afternoon (Willows), 1886
Jan Toorop, 1858-1928
Dunes and Sea near Zoutelande, 1907

Piet Mondrian

After van Gogh, the next most famous Dutch artist of the modern era is Piet Mondrian. The Gemeentemuseum has the largest collection of his works in the world. He gained international recognition by moving to Paris and absorbing the modern movements.

Here's a portrait of Mondrian by a younger contempory. He looks sophisticated but severe.

Gerard Hordijk, 1899-1958
Portrait of Piet Mondrian, 1927
This painting shows the type of geometrical abstraction that Mondrian is best known for. It exemplifies his theory of painting, which he called neoplasticism. He said, "I construct lines and color combinations on a flat surface, in order to express general beauty with the utmost awareness." Neoplasticism became the basic aesthetic of an artists' group, and a journal, called De Stijl (The Style), which he formed with Theo van Doesburg and Bart van der Leck. De Stijl became the rage in architecture and furniture, as well as painting.

Piet Mondriaan, 1872-1944
Composition with Large Red Plane, Yellow, Black, Gray and Blue, 1921
But that was the end-game. In the beginning he was influenced by Impressionism and the work of van Gogh, but even in his early work you see the urge to simplify both form and color. In the next painting it is difficult to resolve his crude assemblage of bright daubs into a church tower with a bare tree in front of it.

Piet Mondriaan, 1872-1944
Church at Oostkapelle, 1909
Even more surprising is this next canvas, which is dissimilar from all his other works in treating the human figure, albeit in a highly abstracted and spiritualized form. In 1909 he joined the Dutch branch of the Theosophical Society, and this painting is intended to represent certain tenets.

Piet Mondriaan, 1872-1944
Evolution, 1911
In 1911 Mondrian moved to Paris, and dropped an A from the Dutch spelling of his name, which is Mondriaan. Through his experiments with cubism he worked his way toward geometric abstraction that depended on strong black outlines. In this example, the typical shape of a tree was plainly driving his composition. He has eliminated color in order to concentrate on form.

Piet Mondriaan, 1872-1944
The Grey Tree, 1911
In the next experiment, the forms have been de-constructed, but colors have emerged.

Piet Mondriaan, 1872-1944
Flowering Trees, 1912
Finally, he gave up form altogether, deciding that pure geometry and primary colors were the best way to convey the principles of Theosophy.

Piet Mondriaan, 1872-1944
Composition with Grid 9: Checkerboard Composition with Bright Colours, 1919

Theo van Doesburg

Theo van Doesburg was eight years younger than Mondrian, and when he first saw Mondrian's work, he felt it realized his ideal in painting: a complete abstraction of reality. He made contact with Mondrian, and they began the De Stijl movement. The museum exhibited three of his paintings that show him becoming increasingly abstract and simplified. However, he could never restrain himself to the rigid verticals and horizontals that Mondrian preferred.

Theo van Doesburg, 1883-1931
The Card Players, 1916-1917
Theo van Doesburg, 1883-1931
Further Imagining of the Card Players, 1917-1918
Theo van Doesburg, 1883-1931
Countercomposition XVI, 1925

Bart van der Leck

Bart van der Leck was one of the founders of De Stijl, and it was his example that led Mondrian to limit his palette to primary colors, but he soon broke with the others and went his own way. He was not very successful, and it was the patronage of Helene Kröller Müller that kept him afloat. Although his style became completely abstract, the museum was showing early figurative works that I liked.

Bart van der Leck, 1876-1958
The Patient, 1912
Bart van der Leck, 1876-1958
Artillery Training. 1911

Heinrich Campendonk

Although he is considered Dutch, Heinrich Campendonk came from Germany and was a member of the Blue Rider group there when the Nazis came to power in 1933 and prohibited him from exhibiting. He moved to Amsterdam and spent the rest of his life teaching in an art academy there, becoming a naturalized citizen. His work is refreshingly wild and difficult to interpret, and his color combinations are very appealing.

Heinrich Campendonk, 1889-1957
The Yellow Animal, c. 1914

Charley Toorop

Originally named Annie Caroline Pontifex Fernhout-Toorop, Charley Toorop was the daughter of Jan Toorop, and friendly with the members of De Stijl. She is known for self-portraits and female nudes in a powerful, realistic style, but throughout her career, she also painted still lifes.

Charley Toorop, 1891-1955
Fruit and Autumn Leaves, 1952

Michael Raedecker

Michael Raedecker is a Dutch artist currently living and working in London. His approach is subtle but loaded with portent.

Michael Raedecker, b. 1963
On, 2008

The International Painting Collection

In addition to all this Dutch art, the Gemeentemuseum has a representative sample of international works from the 19th and 20th century. Here are a few of my favorites.

Claude Monet

You may think you know Monet, but then you see a work that absolutely amazes you. This painting depicts fishing nets being held above the pounding surf by a network of poles. I haven't been able to find any explanation for this fishing technique, but it is certainly picturesque.

Claude Monet, 1840-1926
Fishing Nets at Pourville, 1882

Alexej von Jawlensky

Alexej von Jawlensky is generally known for faces in wildly intense colors, like this one.

Alexej von Jawlensky, 1864-1941
Woman’s Face, c. 191
This unusual landscape uses rough brushwork and simplified forms to evoke a symmetrical blue mountain with a red forest at its base. In the foreground are a green meadow with purple boulders. What time of day is it? The mountain's aqua halo and the red glow of the trees suggest a brilliant sunset in the autumn.

Alexej von Jawlensky, 1864-1941
Landscape at Oberstdorf, c. 1912

Wassily Kandinsky

Wassily Kandinsky was the first abstract painter, and you could say he's still the best. He could be geometric and angular, or he could be organic and flowing, but he was always dynamic and colorful.

Wassily Kandinsky, 1866-1944
Painting with White Form, 1913
Wassily Kandinsky, 1866-1944
A Centre, 1924

Paula Modersohn-Becker

Paula Modersohn-Becker was a German expressionist who created images that were rough but intense. She died of an illness at the age of 31, so she didn't get a chance to develop a large body of work, and it is rare to see it in a museum.

Paula Modersohn-Becker, 1876-1907
Self-portrait with Hat and Veil, 1906


Sometimes Picasso seems inscrutable, but this bemused face really speaks to me.

Pablo Picasso, 1881-1973
Woman with a Mustard Pot, 1910

Max Beckmann

Max Beckmann was deeply affected by World Wars I and II, and I think it gave a certain darkness to his style. He had a harsh, slashing brushstroke that made every scene look menacing. The next painting shows a couple exiting a small café through a revolving door. The woman has blonde hair and wears a feathered hat with a veil, and a large flower on her shoulder. Is this a society lady, or a hooker? The man's face is disproportionately large, but partly hidden by the door; he looks like a man who should be behind bars. Is he a gentleman, or a pimp?

Max Beckmann, 1884-1950
Little Pub/Revolving Door, 1944

Ludwig Meidner

Ludwig Meidner was a German expressionist painter with a dark view of life. In 1912 he did a series of paintings called "Apocalyptic Landscapes" in which he imagined the end of the world. In this one comets and earthquakes devastate the city.

Ludwig Meidner, 1884-1966
Apocalyptic Landscape, 1912

Agnes Martin

Meanwhile, back in the United States, Agnes Martin was relentless pursuing peace in her abstract paintings, always pale and horizontal, and always untitled.

Agnes Martin, 1912-2004
Untitled, 1995

Sol Lewitt

The museum has two corridors that are decorated by "wall drawings" of Sol Lewitt, one of my favorite artists. One corridor has these pairs of drawings on either side. These were designed for this particular space by the artist himself, but they were drawn by other "performers." I love the depth in these designs and the bold colors.

Sol Lewitt, 1928-2007
Wall Drawing #117
Sol Lewitt, 1928-2007
Wall Drawing #117
Sol Lewitt, 1928-2007
Isometric Forms, 2002
Another long hallway has windows along one side and a Lewitt "drawing" along the other. I failed to get identification for this one, but you can see how well it complements the space.

Sol Lewitt, 1928-2007

Bridget Riley

The museum had a special exhibit of works by English artist Bridget Riley, the pre-eminent practitioner of Op Art. This is the kind of work she was doing when she first came on the scene and blew everyone's mind. By the way, I confirmed the unlikely title of the first one.

Bridget Riley, 1931
White Discs 2, 1964
Bridget Riley, 1931
Descending, 1965
This is the kind of work she is doing in the 21st century. She continues to search for new ways to befuddle your vision.

Bridget Riley, 1931
 The lines on this one should be perfectly horizontal. My iPad photo has some distortion.

Bridget Riley, 1931
Orange Paired, 2013

The Sculpture Collection

The museum's sculpture collection includes some old standards and some surprising new forms.

Auguste Rodin is the grand old man of 19th century sculpture, and copies of this male nude may be seen in several museums.

Auguste Rodin, 1840-1917
The Age of Bronze, 1876

Louise Bourgeois was exceptionally long-lived and productive, and she worked with a wide variety of forms and materials. For several years she was pre-occupied with spider forms, and sculptures like this are frequently seen.

Louise Bourgeois, 1911-2010
Spider Couple, 2003

Minimalism in sculpture was represented by two American sculptors—Donald Judd and Carl André. Donald Judd dealt with box forms that are reminiscent of Mondrian's austere geometry.

Donald Judd, 1928-1994
Untitled, 1987

Carl André frequently worked with geometric arrangements of standard units of a certain material. André allows the viewer to appreciate the texture and mellow hue of the wood in the next work. A weir is a type of dam on a canal.

Carl André, 1935
Weir, 1983

Two contemporary sculptures were impressive but bewildering. A Belgian sculptor who calls himself Panamarenko dressed a mannequin in an imaginary gizmo for human-powered flight and the appropriate flight suit. The assemblage was suspended in such a way that the figure appeared to be landing in the foyer of the museum.

Panamarenko, b. 1940
Screw Propeller - Rucksack-with Aviator, 2005
Panamarenko, b. 1940
Screw Propeller - Rucksack-with Aviator, 2005

An American sculptor named Matthew Day Jackson, now 41 years of age, created one of the most extraordinary installations I have ever seen. It shows eight astronauts, carved from blocks of compressed wood and plastic, supporting a glass coffin containing a skeleton. The bearers may be carrying the coffin to its resting place, or they may be supporting it so that mourners can venerate the skeleton. The carving is stunningly intricate and varied and the the way it exposes the material is fascinating.

Matthew Day Jackson, b. 1974
The Tomb, 2010

Matthew Day Jackson, b. 1974
The Tomb, 2010

I made a quick dash through the Fashion department. It's interesting to recall that Mondrian was once so popular that his paintings inspired dress designs.

This display shows Asian influence on fashion.

I noticed this one because I have a friend who is into dragonflies, but I really like the design.


The Gemeentemuseum is an important venue for art of the modern era, and just about the only place in the country where you can see modern art from the Netherlands.

It took intense concentration to cover all this art. We worked separately. I paused a couple times for snacks in their pleasant cafeteria.

It seems hard to believe, but after we left the museum, Captain Dan persuaded me that we should take advantage of the late sunset to see the Hague's famous beach, called Scheveningen. The tram system is quite extensive, so we found a nearby stop where we could get a tram straight there. However, the beach scene is such a different subject that I'll put my photos in a separate post.