Mancini: Eccentric and Extravagant

With a lockdown of public life in the Netherlands and most of the world, an art review about an exhibition in a closed museum might seem redundant. We live in strange times, but hard times bring out the creativeness in people. We are quick to step up to the plate and come up with alternatives. With numerous exhibitions running in the Netherlands this month, although at the time of writing not one museum is open, museums have been quick to provide the art-loving (and -longing) public with online exhibition options.

One of those, which we are likely to miss (even if the museums were open) is Mancini: Eccentric and Extravagant, which can be partially seen online at the Mesdag Collection Museum in The Hague. The collection was started and named after Hendrik Mesdag (1831-1915) and his wife Sientje van Houten (1834-1909). In their thirties, both became painters and avid art collectors. Mesdag had worked as a stockbroker, but later discovered a passion for painting. He specialized in seascapes, while Van Houten focused on landscapes. But the couple also started collecting art and brokering for other painters, especially after Van Houten inherited a significant sum from her father.

Mesdag became infatuated with the works of the young Italian painter Antonio Mancini (1852-1930). In the 1870s Mancini met and became friends with the American painter John Singer Sargent, who called him the greatest living painter of the time. Mesdag was also quick to recognize the Italian’s talent and purchased more than 150 of his works, which he exhibited and sold or kept for himself.

The impressionist-style Mancini painted with broad brushes strokes and introduced shiny bits of glass and metal into the paint, which heightened the emotional effect. In “The model” (c. 1875-1878), Mancini captures a young boy in a ‘snapshot’ way. The boy looks right through the viewer, like children can do when they are daydreaming. In “Lost in Thought” (c. 1895-1898), Mancini portrays a young woman staring directly at the viewer the same way. At first, the painting has an awkward feeling to it. The exhibition is primarily a collection of young women and boys, which has viewers mesmerized, and gets them “lost in staring”, a welcome distraction  these days.

Mancini: Eccentric and Extravagant in the Mesdag Collection

Written by Benjamin B. Roberts