Hendrik Willem Mesdag was a landscape and marine painter, and collector. He married Sientje van Houten (1834-1909), who was also a painter.
Mesdag studied drawing and painting under C. B. Buijs and J. H. Egenberger, Director of the Academie Minerva in Groningen. However, it was not until 1866 that Mesdag decided to become a professional painter. He then trained with Willem Roelofs, and came into contact with the Belgian Realist painters Alfred Verwée, Louis Artan and Louis Dubois. He worked en plein air, and the sea became his primary subject. At the Paris Salon of 1870 he was awarded a gold medal for Breakers in the North Sea (Wassenaar), and was praised by the Belgian critic Camille Lemonnier for his truthfulness to nature. In 1881 he painted his most significant work, his panoramic Signal Box Dune, in Scheveningen, helped by his wife, B. J. Blommers, Théophile de Bock and G. H. Breitner. In rendering and mood it is similar to the work of other Hague school painters, such as Jacob Maris and Jan Hendrik Weissenbruch.
Mesdag was a central figure within the Hague school, acting as chairman of the Pulchri Studio painting society from 1874 to 1892. He was also one of the first governors, along with Willem Maris and Anton Mauve, of the Hollandsche Teeken-Maatschappij, founded in The Hague in 1876 to promote drawing. However, after 1885 Mesdag's paintings lost their original energy and became rather repetitive in style and theme.
Mesdag exhibited in London at the Royal Academy, Grosvenor Gallery, New Gallery, Dudley Gallery and International Society of Sculptors, Painters and Gravers, a society which formed in 1898 with Whistler as its President. He also exhibited at the Glasgow Institute of the Fine Arts, Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool and Manchester City Art Gallery.
In 1889 Mesdag was placed on a jury assigned to award the medals of the city of Amsterdam to artists who had taken part in the Exhibition of Fine Arts. Whistler was awarded a gold medal (#00160). Presumably through the ISSPG, by the early 1900s Whistler appears to have formed a personal acquaintance with Mesdag (#10703).
In 1903 Mesdag gave his collection of contemporary Dutch and French paintings, together with his house in The Hague, to the Dutch nation. It is now the Rijksmuseum Hendrik Willem Mesdag.
De Leeuw, R., J. Sillevis and C. Dumas, The Hague School: Dutch Masters of the Nineteenth Century, London, 1983; Johnson, J., and A. Gruetzner, The Dictionary of British Artists 1880-1940, Woodbridge, 1980; Poort, J., H. W. Mesdag: Life and Work, Wassenaar, 1992; Saskia De Bodt, 'H. W. Mesdag', The Grove Dictionary of Art Online, ed. L. Macy, http://www.groveart.com (accessed 24 January 2003).