Get an impression of the exhibition

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  • Floris Arntzenius, Liesje painting, detail, 1906, oil on canvas, 35.3 x 45.5 cm, Museum Gouda
  • Willem Bastiaan Tholen, Winter fun: sledding on the beach at Scheveningen, detail, c. 1917, black pastel on paper, 52 x 71 cm, private collection
  • Hendrik Willem Mesdag, The donkey ride, detail, oil on panel, 30.5 x 42 cm, Museum Panorama Mesdag
  • Pieter de Josselin de Jong, Girl from Scheveningen, detail, oil on panel, 36 x 27.5 cm, private collection, courtesy of Hein Klaver
  • Wally Moes, Schaftuurtje, 1885, olieverf op doek, 97 x 149 cm, Collectie Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam – Schenking: Vereniging van Voorstanders der Kunst 1885, 1529 (MK), foto: Studio Tromp
peuter in blauwe jurk zit op de grond te schilderen
spelende kinderen in een winterlandschap, tekening
meisje is bezig met handwerk, gekleed in Scheveningse klederdracht

Put to work at an early age

Labour and handiwork

Van Houten’s child labour law

You may be wondering if it was even legal at the time for children to work. After all, the well-known law against child labour in the Netherlands – nicknamed the Kinderwetje van Van Houten – was adopted in 1874, making it precisely 150 years old in 2024. But this ban on child labour was not an all-out prohibition. The law, put forth by Dutch politician Samuel van Houten (who was Sientje Mesdag-van Houten’s brother), only outlawed factory work for children under the age of 12. It did not cover ‘domestic and personal services and/or agricultural labour’ provided by children.

Picturesque and popular

In the paintings of the Hague School painters, we see children and teens still working alongside adults both in and outside the context of the family. The children whom the artists found picturesque were dressed in simple or even shabby clothing. These young people helped out on the farm, rented donkeys to bathers on the beach, performed manual labour or handiwork.

Scenes of this type were popular and fetched good prices in galleries. They were praised for capturing the ‘pure’ beauty of the simple life.

Anton Mauve, Jonge herder met koe, Particuliere collectie

Anton Mauve, Young Cowherd, undated, oil on canvas, 51 x 81 cm, private collection, photo: Venduehuis Auctioneers Den Haag

Artists’ offspring

A carefree childhood

Intimate portraits

The children of the Hague School painters often led carefree lives: unlike their working peers, their existence was not geared toward survival. In the intimate portraits of them painted by their parents, we see the children making music, drawing or reading. We see daughters in immaculate white dresses and a son playing with a toy dog. These portraits were intended primarily for personal ends, although some painters did use their children as models for commercial work as well.

Ode to Klaasje Mesdag

This exhibition devotes particular attention to Klaasje, the only child of Hendrik Willem Mesdag and Sientje Mesdag-Van Houten. Klaasje died quite young, before his 8th birthday. A few of Klaasje’s childhood drawings have been preserved in one of Mesdag’s sketchbooks. These remarkable drawings are now being displayed for the first time, together with family portraits and the Mesdag family’s own photo albums. The exhibition also includes a letter Klaasje wrote to his grandfather.

Familiealbum-Klaasje Mesdag, MPM- Museum-Panorama Mesdag

Portrait of Klaasje Mesdag, ca 1865, photo in photoalbum, Museum Panorama Mesdag, foto: Piet Gispen

Top image: Jacob Maris, Portrait of Willem, presumably Willem Matthijs Maris Jbzn, son of Jacob Maris, 1876, oil on panel, 14 x 11,8 cm, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam – bequest of Mr and Mrs Drucker-Fraser, Montreux


Marriage or life as an artist?

Children’s portraits were a popular theme among female artists such as Wally Moes, Henriette de Vries, Froukje Wartena and Barbara van Houten. Why, then, are there no portraits of their own children to be found?

The answer is as simple as it is shocking. Most of these artists chose to remain unmarried and to forego having children. At the time, it was considered inappropriate for a married woman to earn an income: only men were allowed to work for a living.

The exhibition devotes generous attention to these women and their paintings and drawings of other people’s children.

Houten, van, Meisje met de pop

Barbara Elizabeth van Houten, Girl with doll, oil on canvas, 136 x 81 cm, Museum Panorama Mesdag



Richly illustrated exhibition publication

The exhibition will be accompanied by a richly illustrated publication that will cover every aspect of the exhibition, supplemented by historical background accounts and first-person texts.

The authors of the book are Adrienne Quarles van Ufford, Head of Museum Affairs and the curator of this exhibition, and Jeroen Kapelle, curator of 19th century works at RKD Netherlands Institute for Art History.

The book is being published by Uitgeverij Waanders.