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San Francisco, California
May 6, 2006
From journal Museums in the Hague
June 25, 2003
I can see bathers in funny, old-fashioned swimming costumes, beached fishing-boats, cavalry exercising, a woman in front of a painter’s easel, a sun umbrella next to her, women mending fishing-nets, an abandoned clog and an empty bottle half covered in white sand, and behind me Scheveningen village, the church, the lighthouse, people walking in the streets.
Momentarily I am deceived in believing that this is the real view. But what I see is a 120-metre circular canvas. This illusion of reality was created by Hendrik Mesdag in 1881 and it took him four months to complete. he was helped by his wife Sientje and four other painter of the Hague School. One of them was Breitner who was to became famous as people painter. Mesdag himself, a marine painter, took care of painting all the boats and the sea.
Panoramas like this one were popular attractions in those pre-cinema and pre-television days.
It was common practice in panoramas that the painter himself was depicted in his painting. Here we don’t see Mesdag but we do see Sientje. She is the lady behind the painter’s easel.
Panoramas were called paintings without borders. When you look at the panorama you don’t see the real world. This is done on purpose so that you cannot compare the things you see with reality.
Normally speaking when you look at a painting, your eyes can see what is around this painting; the real world. Because you cannot see ‘the real world’ the illusion of what you see becomes the real world. And that’s why this panorama is so ‘real’.
The entrance to Panorama Mesdag is through a dark corridor, at the end there is a winding staircase which takes you on to the viewing platform. From here you look down at the view. It takes some time to adjust your eyes to the bright light which heightens your feeling of disorientation.
The building has a glass roof, which cannot be seen when you are in the pavilion. This a perfect touch because the real sun throws real shadows across the beach, the sea, the dunes and the houses. The effect is stunning.
The pavilion is surrounded by real sand which merges with the painted sand, thus obscuring the lower frame of the painting. The upper frame of the painting is also hidden from view by the roof of the pavilion.
If you feel like it you can now go to Scheveningen to see what the view is these days. You can easily get to Scheveningen either by tram no 8 or bus no 22. When you leave Panorama Mesdag turn right and walk to the next cross roads. Both the tram and bus pass the Peace Palace, which is also worth seeing.
From journal cls223 and Marianne in The Hague
October 24, 2000
From journal The Hague, perfect base for excursions