October 01, 2007 | Myrna Anderson

The Center Art Gallery at Calvin College will be hosting “Between Nature and Nationality: The Hague School in the Nineteenth Century"

An opening reception and introductory lecture for the exhibition will take place from 7-9 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 6.

The exhibition of over 25 paintings, prints and drawings is a significant collaboration among several Michigan institutions.

Between Nature and Nationality” was drawn together from Calvin's permanent collection and from collections at The Detroit Institute of Art, the Grand Rapids Art Museum, The Holland Museum, the Muskegon Museum of Art, The Art Museum at Michigan State University, Hope College and two private donors.

“This is a great selection of works from Michigan collections,” said Calvin director of exhibitions Joel Zwart, a co-creator of the show, “and it's a great example of all of these institutions working together.”

Against idealization

The Hague School was an artistic movement of the late-19th century based on a group of Dutch artists who gathered around The Hague, a city in the Netherlands. The school was a move away from romantic idealization and toward Realism, said Zwart.

“It was related to the French Barbizon School,” he said, “where artists went outside to paint directly from nature as opposed to the intermediary step of taking the sketches from outdoors and bringing them inside to complete their work.”

The Hague School also has some relation to Impressionism.

“But unlike the French Impressionists,” said Zwart, “who wanted to capture the glory and brightness of light, the Dutch were preoccupied with gray and tonal variations. The art of the Hague School is very reflective of the Dutch landscape and the atmosphere.”

The realistic emphasis of the Hague School is in some ways a reaction to the Industrial Revolution that featured in the movement's historic backdrop, Zwart explained.

“Steamships and railroads were being developed, and there was an industrialization of society and the economy going on. So what these artists did was to go to The Hague and paint outside the city. They were capturing scenes of rural life: They captured peasants working out in the field, fisherman fishing in the sea, women washing their clothes.”

Through their subject matter and the nostalgia with which they invested it, the Hague School attempted to reflect a purer era.

“These artists thought they could get back to something basic and essential to life. They thought that this world was in need of purification or cleansing,” said Henry Luttikhuizen, a Calvin professor of art history and another of the show's organizers.

Assembling the exhibition

The art of the Hague School was popular with collectors during the late 20th century when “Holland-o-Mania,” a love of all things Dutch, was prevalent in U.S. culture.

“The main patrons for this art were wealthy businessmen from Scotland, England, Canada and the U.S.,” Zwart said.

The impetus for creating “Between Nature and Nationality” occurred when an alumnus of the college made known his intentions to donate a collection of paintings-many from The Hague School-to Calvin's permanent collection. This donation inspired Zwart and Luttikhuizen to assemble an exhibition of Hague School works.

“When you're putting together a show, you're dreaming about the works that will make it a great show,” Zwart said. “We were aware of a number of Hague School works throughout the state of Michigan, and we were interested in fulfilling a number of themes in the exhibition, and so we went to those individuals and institutions.”

Four Calvin faculty members have contributed essays to the exhibition catalogue, and the show has garnered support from a whole range of college departments.

The organizers of “Between Nature and Nationality,” hope that the exhibition also serves as a nice complement to “Modern and Contemporary Art from the Netherlands: the ABN AMRO Collection,” one of the debut exhibitions to be held at the new Grand Rapids Art Museum, opening Oct. 5.

“This show will be a good precursor to the works of those artists,” Zwart said.

A trio of drawings hidden in the permanent art collection at Calvin College for over four decades was recently discovered by the college’s director of exhibitions.

Joel Zwart (above) uncovered the previously unknown sketches by Dutch artist Anton Mauve late this summer as he was preparing for “Between Nature and Nationality."

He found the new drawings on the backs of three of a quartet of Mauve drawings that Calvin has owned since the 1960s.

“It's a great lesson in conservation,” Zwart said, “because several of the drawings had experienced severe fading due to exposure to light. In preparation for the exhibition, I set about to re-frame them. In the process of doing so, I discovered that three of the drawings had additional drawings on the back."

He said all of the Mauve drawings probably date to the late 1800s, and since their acquisition by Calvin, the original four had been displayed in various locations on campus. After inspecting the drawings, the paper they were drawn on and its watermarks, Zwart concluded that the works came from one or more Mauve sketchbooks.

“Likely a dealer had bought the sketchbook or sketchbooks and divvied them up-selected the ones he liked best and thought he could get the best value from,” he said.

Anton Mauve, a Dutch painter of the late 1800s, was an eminent representative of the Hague School. The school is recognized today for producing rural scenes of peasant life and agriculture, in part as a reaction to the Industrial Revolution. Mauve is best known for his pastoral scenes, which are generally populated with farm animals.

“Cows and sheep coming at you and going away,” Henry Luttikhuizen, Calvin professor of art history, said of the artist best known as the mentor of Van Gogh.

The drawings he discovered are in various stages of completion, said Zwart. “These sketches have a sort of hasty, in-the-moment feel to them, as a sketch would, but they also show varied sensibilities to the landscape. It looks like he’s playing with different ways of illustrating figures by using different strokes and different hues.”

While the new drawings won’t add much value to the existing drawings, they are a worthwhile discovery, he said. “They are valuable because they give us a better understanding of where they came from, and we have a better understanding of Mauve and his work.”

The new drawings also will add strength to the Hague School exhibition which has a good representation of work by Mauve. Scans of the discovered drawings will be displayed among their original counterparts as well as Mauve paintings from a private collection, The Detroit Institute of Art, the Grand Rapids Art Museum and The Art Museum at Michigan State University.

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