The Mesdag Panorama, one of the biggest tourist attractions in The Hague, is the oldest surviving example in its original setting of a fad that swept Europe in the 19th century.
Hendrik Willem Mesdag’s vast painting depicts Scheveningen – The Hague’s nearby seaside resort – and shows a world very different to today yet recognizably Dutch. Flat-bottomed fishing boats are drawn up on the sand, cavalry exercise their horses, and horse-drawn trams deliver passengers to the center of what is still a small town. A grand hotel and even grander palace stand out from the spread of poorer houses.
Drawn from the viewpoint of a high dune (an apartment building now stands on the site), it took Mesdag a year to finish with the help of at least five colleagues. It is an impressive work of art as well as a detailed record of a day in 1881 that oozes the respectability and enjoyment of life that are still such features of the Dutch character.
The painting is deceptively simple but, like others of the style, drew on breakthroughs in perspective as well as using photographs for the study of shadows. Similar panoramas were a sensation in London, Berlin, Paris and Brussels. These panoramas were the forerunners of cinema and most went bankrupt as moving pictures began to appear.
A video shows the fascinating technological challenge that went into restoring the painting in recent years, highlighting how much hard work and brainpower is hidden behind the orderly face the Dutch show to the outside world.
Want to experience The Hague at its very best? Scheveningen is home to a Truly Wonderful hotel – an icon of the city oozing with history. Check it out!