I’m on my own as Peg flies to Valencia for a ten day visit. I am staying in the small village called Leidshendam, which sits between Leiden and Den Haag, The Hague, as its known in English. It’s a short walk to the bus. I flick my chipkaart at the reader as I board, feeling like a real pro at public transit, where you are charged by distance. The cost is determined and flashed on the screen when you check out, if you remember to do so. If not they have a website where you can do so and avoid a large charge. I know these things now.
My destination is the Escher Museum, on embassy row in Den Haag. However I follow my talking pocket first to the Academiewinkle, looking for art supplies. I unexpectedly find myself in the Royal Academy of Art, which together with the Royal Conservatory form the University of the Arts The Hague- that’s how they write it on their website, no comma. Founded, my goodness, in 1692. They must have been wearing Pilgrim outfits. They’ve been in this building since 1839, as I found out later. That’s what the old paint and total lack of decor suggest as I walk down the dingy corridors in the basement where they put the store.
So it’s not a stand alone art shop but one that primarily serves students- no problem. They always serve non-students as well so I went in with confidence. The friendly guy switches seamlessly to Engles (English), and found what I was looking for, hidden behind some just arrived inventory. I never would have it on my own. I leave with my stuff, expecting to see scantily clad models around running to the next life drawing class. Instead there were just students, no doubt some of the best the country, and even the world, has to offer.
After that longish walk from Den Haag Central I make another to Embassy Row. The Escher Museum is in what was once a royal palace. The Dutch still have royalty, strangely enough as democratically run as they are, all 17 political parties worth.
I start in the basement. That’s where you have to leave your backpack. The way down and up are via separate servant staircases, and climb the latter you have to walk through the MC Cafe. Not the McCafe, the MC Cafe. I’m mighty glad I did so. The woman at the counter said there was a special on, coffee and a cake for 6.25, not exactly cheap, but I went for it as it was well past tensies. Pushing early lunch even. I am glad I did. The caramel cake is out of this world! A crunchy – is that the word?- top and a creamy inside. My my.
Maurits Cornelius Escher (1898-1972) was Dutch – I did not know that – and one of the most famous graphic artists- that I knew. He worked wood block for black and white high contrast effects, and lithographs for shading. His big thing was the play with perspective and creating mathematical themes, despite not having any but basic math skills. He explored infinity through transitions and the art equivalent of “…” (dot dot dot). Tesselations – I’d never seen that word before. It’s a tiling, in this case a graphic tiling using geometric shapes, called tiles, and it’s a mathematical concept as well. Think of the geometric designs in Islamic art and you can get a good idea of what a tesselation is. It’s also found in quilting. Escher’s art became well known among scientists and mathematicians, and in popular culture, especially after it was featured In April of 1966 by Martin Gardner in Scientific American. It was in the Mathematical Games column.
Escher attended the Technical College of Delft (1918) and then the Haarlem School of Decorative Arts (1919-22), where he studied drawing and woodcuts. He became enamored with the tile work in the Alhambra after a journey there, following visits to Italy, living in Rome afterwards from 1923-35. Mussolini repelled him so they left. He and his wife moved to just outside Brussels after a brief sojourn in Switzerland. In January, 1941 the war forced his move to the Netherlands. All this and more I am learning from the excellent written commentary.
The lovely palace that is home to the museum was finished in 1764. The Hope family bought in in 1796. Mr. Hope was a financier of royal families. Perhaps this is why Napoleon once stayed in the building. Queen Emma bought it in 1896. She added a beautiful staircase that appears to go to the second floor, but as I found out, you have to use the old servant staircases to and from that level. The Queen never went to the second floor (third floor as counted in the US), as it was for the servants. She also had them install hot running water, rare at the time.
The exhibits are excellently explained in very good Engles (although on their website ‘aloud’ is confused with ‘allowed.’ English. It is so difficult to spell). I learn a bit about lithographs. A special ink or chalk is used to make a drawing on a special stone, (thus ‘litho’) made to be water and ink repellent. Only the oily drawn lines absorb the ink the artist uses to draw.
Afterwards I wander a bit around town. It’s seem so cool to me to be in the Hague. It is so famous, so important, so lovely at least in the good weather. The pedestrian streets and bike paths are alive, cars and trucks demur at crosswalks. People sit outdoors having snacks or lunches. I join them for a light lunch, having already had dessert and, oh I’d forgotten, I had a tensie before I left Leidshendam. The slices of local cheese with bits of lettuce and whatnot sprinked on top, the bread and the beer left me a bit overstocked.
Den Haag is one of the most important cities in the world. It is the seat of the Netherlands government, although Amsterdam is the capitol. Here the Prime Minister and the Cabinet meet, and you find the States General, the Supreme Court, and the Council of State. Den Haag is the home of the International Court of Justice, the International Criminal Court, the Permanent Court of Arbitration, Europol and some 200 other administrative bodies.
It’s an old city (circa 1320) replete with many fine examples of Golden Age, Art Deco and other architectural styles. It is the country’s third-largest city, with a population of 800,000.
We took a walking tour the other day, one of those where you tip the guide and otherwise there is no fee. We started at the Mauritshaus, now a museum, walking around it to the natural lake, once a source of fish for the inhabitants. There you see the Binnenhof (meaning Inner Court), now housing the Parliament, where the nation’s 17 political parties meet, and the PM’s office, which is in a small tower. The PM can be seen bicycling to and from work often, with a hundred thousand or more other residents doing the same, the guide explained. Parliament’s home is a large Gothic structure dating from the 14th century. It was begun by William II starting circa 1248 and finished under his son Floris V. There were four others name Floris? This I do not know.
You might wonder how a nation can govern itself with so many parties. Perhaps the key is the country’s long term common enemy, water, lots of it very near, going by the name North Sea. The control of water is complicated and it’s always beckoning. With this common concern compromises and peace keeping are at the top of the agenda.
Perhaps you have also wondered how The Hague became the center for peace making. If not, start now.
The story starts with Tobias Asser, who initiated the first global Conference of Peace in 1899 (and again in 1907). These led to the establishment of the Permanent Court of Arbitration, which served to settle international disputes. Andrew Carnegie funded the Peace Palace as its home. Following the founding of the League of Nations, The Hague housed the Permanent Court of International Justice, replaced by the International Court of Justice under the U.N.
Royal Dutch Shell is the world’s 5th largest business revenue producer, head quartered here. The Hague is the second most visited city in the country after Amsterdam. The King and Queen live here, and are of the House of Orange as in the once English king. He (the former, not the latter) gives an annual statement of the country’s goals at the Summer Palace, just a short distance from the Winter Palace, each built to allow maximum comfort from the season’s harshest weather, both on the tour of course.
The Hague has its share of museums, most notably the Mauritshuis, built by the governor of the Dutch colony in Brazil. We went there. It is not a huge museum but has some very famous paintings. There are a number of Rembrants, including perhaps his most famous self portrait, and two Vermeers, including Girl With a Pearl Earing.
Aside from Maurithaus: the Bredius (art and restoration of the building), Museon (science), Kunstmuseum (modern art), , the national postal museum Museum voor Communicatie, , Louis Couperus (novelist), Museum Beelden aan Zee (modern sculpture), the Gevangepoort, former prison, Haags Historisch (history). I went to the superbly done history museum, which sits across from the Binnenhaus. The introductory graphic alone is worth the price of admission. It shows the map of the city and points out what happened in what area along with the dates, starting with prehistory. The coastline was closer in then, to about where the city now stands. Sand and peat bogs extended the coast. Well before the time the Nazis blazoned an antitank ditch through the center of the city the coastline came to where it now lies. The RAF mistakenly bombed a neighborhood, the rubble salvaged for construction. The museum has an corona collection and charts the ethnic changes brought about by immigration.
Den Haag. Garybob says check it out!