Hendrik Willem Mesdag (Dutch, 1831-1915)
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Hendrik Willem Mesdag (Dutch, 1831-1915)

Maaneffect: entering the harbour by moonlight

Hendrik Willem Mesdag (Dutch, 1831-1915)
Maaneffect: entering the harbour by moonlight
signed 'HW Mesdag' (lower right)
oil on canvas
70 x 89 cm.
Panorama Mesdag, The Hague, Inventory April 1917, inv.no. 43, as: Haven.
J. Poort, Hendrik Willem Mesdag 1831-1915: Oeuvrecatalogus, Wassenaar 1989, p. 403, no. 40.05, ill., as: Maaneffect.
Frankfurt, Franfurter Kunstverrein, cat.no. 710 (according to a label attached to the reverse).
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Lot Essay

The present lot is an outstanding example of Mesdag's nocturnes. A large three-master enters a harbour by full moon, assisted by a small steamer. The moonlight is reflected softly in the water and little twinkling orange lights reveal the harbour and pier in the distance. This beautifully rendered atmospheric scene is infused with a deep blue glow in the sea and sky. The thin layer of cloud cover is strongly illuminated, creating a tremendous contrast with the night hues. A stately three-master has just returned from open sea and is manoeuvring into the harbour helped by the small pilot steamer. The steam leaves a large diagonal trace in the sky thereby making the composition as a whole more dynamic.

The harbour on the horizon is likely to be the fishing village of Scheveningen in winter as this was Mesdag's preferred district to paint. He visited the village almost daily to study the sea and seek inspiration until his death in 1915. Mesdag probably painted the present lot around 1900, at the zenith of his career. The storm of 1894 had destroyed most of the fishing-fleet of Scheveningen and plans were made to build a harbour. The present painting may be compared with the work 'Maan bij avond' dated 1899 in the collection of the Panorama Mesdag in The Hague (fig. 1) which depicts the same harbour at night and was painted in 1899.

At the turn of the century, Mesdag's international career was very well established. He frequently sent paintings to exhibitions at the Salon de Paris, where his realistic renderings of the North Sea and Scheveningen made a strong and positive impression on art critics, earning him the nickname 'le poète de la Mer du Nord'. From 1870 until 1911 Mesdag exhibited at least two works at the Salon de Paris every year, which he considered to be the most important international exhibition. Mesdag had become chairman of Pulchri Studio in 1889, an important platform for the painters of The Hague School as it gave them the opportunity to exhibit their works. Mesdag would remain chairman until 1907 and significantly increased the various activities of Pulchri Studio in order to promote The Hague School artists inside and outside The Netherlands.

The present significant painting illustrates the diversity of Mesdag's oeuvre and reinforces his status as a leading artist from the Hague School.

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