The Hague School took its name from the coastal city in the Netherlands where a group of Dutch artists lived and worked roughly between 1860 and 1890. Influenced by the landscapes of the Dutch Golden Age and the French Barbizon School, the Hague School reacted against traditional academic painting, putting emphasis on realistic representations rather than idealized or romantic imagery. Painting rural landscapes and scenes of coastal life, their "en plein air" ("in open air") works emphasized atmosphere and mood while employing a sombre and muted color palette that lead to the group being dubbed the "Gray School".

While the landscape remained the dominant subject in the Hague School's paintings, the group was willing to "move with the times" by recording the changing Dutch landscape as it was being transformed by the building of railways, canals and bridges. It was the Hague School artists who provided the lasting aesthetic and historical record of the Netherland's transition into a modern industrial nation.

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