Sometimes you come across something which at first seems ordinary, but upon closer inspection and study it has something interesting. I came across in a collection that I had bought a while ago, a letter from The Hague to Ghent (Belgium) from 1871. Not very special, except that it is old and has nice stamps.
On the front the letter has two 5ct with dot stamp The Hague and a so-called "two-letter-cancel" 's-Gravenhage and on the back a cancel Hollande par Nord 2 and a cancel from the city of Gand. The letter left The Hague on August 16, 1871 and arrived in Ghent the next day via Antwerp. Fun but not very exciting.
Until I started to read more closely the address of the receiver. To:
"the Board of Directors of the InterNational Exhibition of Fine Arts in the Cafino in Gend"
The sender wrote national first and later corrected himself by trying to write "Inter" in between. The reader should know that I have always been interested in "Fine Arts". I even traded a little bit in art in a distant past and had a gallery of my own. Hence my eye fell on the receiver. What was the International Exhibition of Fine Arts in Ghent in 1871?
The International Exhibitions of Fine Arts in Ghent
It was not easy to find anything about the international exhibition in Ghent in 1871. But after a lot of searching, there appears to be an "Indication of Paintings" on the internet. A sort of catalog of the paintings on display in the exhibition, with regulations governing the conditions for the artists.
The first thing that struck me was that it wasn't the first exhibition, but already the 28th and that it was a three-year exhibition. I have not found anything about any previous exhibitions. If the previous ones also lasted three years, such an exhibition would have existed for 84 years, with the first in 1787. That seems a bit improbable to me. So the previous exhibitions were not every three years. But this one does!
Going through the "Indication" I noticed that quite a few Dutch artists from The Hague took part; no fewer than 21 artists lived in The Hague at the time and submitted work. This includes Mesdag from the Panorama Mesdag. Would my letter be from Mesdag? hmm nice thought but i don't think so. Firstly, the chance is small and it is not even certain that it belongs to an artist. Secondly, even though I'm not a handwriting expert, it doesn't look like his handwriting compared to open sources of Mesdag's letters.
Whoever the letter actually belongs to remains a mystery, of course, even though it seems likely that it could be one of the 21 participating artists.