Brilliant, splendid, inspiring! The colours, the shapes! Such words come to mind while wandering through the exhibition at the Mesdag Collection in The Hague. Mind: not the museum with the panorama! The former home and museum Willem and Sientje Mesdag created, located along the Laan van Meerdervoort.

The exhibition focuses on ceramics created by the person who is often called the first Dutch industrial designer: Theo Colenbrander (1841 – 1930). Willem and Sientje Mesdag collected works Colenbrander designed for The Hague Pottery Factory Rozenburg between 1884 – 1889.

The couple displayed these in their home and museum next door; both buildings now called the Mesdag Collection. Don’t be surprised: banker-turned-artist Willem Mesdag invested in the factory. In fact, he became major share-holder and acquire some Colenbrander ceramics “fresh from the kiln”.

This is clear from one item in the first room of this exhibition: it still has the “points” used in the production process. Vases, candle sticks, plates emerged white from the ovens? Craftsmen copied designs and painted in colours, using models Colenbrander made. A second time in the oven resulted in the now much sought-after, recognizable Colenbrander ceramics.

Willem and Sientje Mesdag personally knew Colenbrander. They admired his designs. The couple even asked Colenbrander as their interior design advisor for their home.

The Mesdags not only owned sets of his ceramics, but also carpets Colenbrander designed. When Mesdag died, his personal collection of art contained over 130 items and sets of ceramics by Colenbrander. All were sold; the collection broken up.      

However, visitors familiar with this museum know, it display Colenbrander ceramics in its permanent collection. The exhibition joins works which were once part of the Mesdags’ collection, to items from their museum and loans from the The Hague Gemeente Museum and Amsterdam Rijksmuseum. The first time these items are exhibited together.

Astonishingly, Colenbrander trained as architect. He spent time in Paris and while there, visited the World Exhibition. He drew his inspiration from various sources, including Asia – think Japan and Indonesia; Mexico and South America, as well as nature.

Special display cases in the first room show finished products from 1884 – 1889. In the second room biscuit models with designs created by Colenbrander for factory workers to copy, are displayed next some finished products.

Exhibition visitors come across “turban vases”, a “Constantinople” plate, as well as sets like “Tulip”, “Day and Night”, “Peacock”. Especially the latter three are famous. Look carefully and discover why: each single hand-made piece is unique!

Another thing which delights: the manner in which all items are displayed. Downstairs, the art is displayed in special long cases. These ensure visitors can admire front, sides, backs of all items. For Colenbrander did not restrict his vibrant designs by the form of a vase, plate or candle stick.

This inventive designer was way ahead of his time. He later claimed designs came to him as visions. A perfectionist and hardly ever pleased with end-results, Colenbrander left the Rosenburg factory after five years.   

He later designed for another factory near Gouda. In 1921, when Colenbrander was in his eighties (!), fans of his ceramics and designs established a new factory. For RAM, Colenbrander designed 60 models and over 700 designs between 1921 – 1925.   

On the second floor of the Mesdag Collection, the third exhibition room has walls covered with names Colenbrander gave his designs. On the floor, the striking carpet “Fishes”, designed by him. Dazzling in a single display case: a set of five ceramics from the RAM-period. Decades apart, yet shapes, colours and designs clearly related to the Rosenburg period.

Curator Renske Suijver, as well as guest-curators and photographers Erik and Petra Hesmerg share a passion for ceramics with the Mesdags and Colenbrander. They created an exhibition which not only shows Colenbrander’s art at its best. They ensured a variation in tall and small, amazing colour-combinations and stunning designs, create a stunning display.   

This exhibition not only appeals to artists, designers, museologist, lovers of Art Noveau and Art Deco, ceramic enthusiasts, Theo Colenbrander fans. A visit will delight those familiar and unfamiliar with this charming museum. And don’t forget to visit the permanent collection, which has more ceramics by Colenbrander!


Contributor: Kate, writing for The Hague Online

Museum: Mesdag Collection, Laan van Meerdervoort 7F, The Hague; “Mesdag & Colenbrander, A Shared Fascination with Ceramics”, Wednesday – Sunday from 12:00 – 17:00, till 23th of June 2019.

Catalogue “Mesdag & Colenbrander, a Shared Fascination with Ceramics”, Titus M. Eliëns, Photography Erikc & Petra Hesmerg, The Mesdag Collection, 95 pp, Museum Edition ISBN 978-90-79310-93-7; English & Dutch texts – on sale at the museum’s shop.

Image credits: “Selectie van kelken, tulband- en puntpullen, 1886-1888, De Mesdag Collectie, Den Haag” photographed by Erik & Petra Hesmerg, courtesy Mesdag Museum.