Hendrik Mesdag did not start painting until the age of 35, when an inheritance allowed him to leave a job at his father’s bank and pursue his passion for art. He became leader of The Hague School and one of the foremost marine painters of the nineteenth century.
Mesdag moved his family to Brussels in 1866, where the fledgling artist could be close to his cousin Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema and take lessons from the Dutch landscapist and Barbizon habitué Willem Roelofs. Mesdag found his talent lay in seascapes and followed his aptitude toward international success. His 1870 Salon entry Breakers in the North Sea (Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam) won a gold medal, opening the door to further invitations, such as to exhibit in Philadelphia’s Centennial International Exhibition of 1876. He was later elected a government commissioner tasked with organizing the exhibit for the Chicago World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893; of the exhibit, which included five of his own compositions and others from his personal collection which can now be found in The Mesdag Collection, Amsterdam, The Times of Philadelphia commented “The work of giants like Rembrandt, van der Neer, Ruysdael, Holbein and Frans Hals are almost equaled now by master like Israels, Mesdag, Bosboom, Maris, Mauve and Artz.” (“Worthy of Holland: Pictures Truly Illustrative of the Merits of the Great Dutch School”, April 30, 1893, p. 18).
The present work encapsulates Mesdag’s plein air realism, with a focus on atmosphere and tonality. The lack of a shoreline and the wind-blown waves make the viewer unsure as to whether they are on the shore or out to sea, following the scuttling clouds. The inscription SCH on the main sail may reveal the location as Scheveningen, a beloved beach escape near The Hague, the artist’s home from 1869. Mesdag and his wife, the landscapist Sientje, lived in a home on the Laan van Meerdervoort adjoining the dunes and forest, allowing them both access to their inspiration.