oil on canvas: 120 x 77 cm
(frame: 143 x 100 cm)
signed ‘Isaac Israels’ (lower right)
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Isaac Israels is recognised to be one of the leading artists of the Dutch Impressionist movement. Born in Amsterdam, he moved with his family to The Hague in 1872. There his father Josef, one of the most prominent representatives of The Hague School, taught him the fundamentals of painting. Isaac was proven to be very talented, he breathed and lived art. In 1877-1880 he briefly studied at the Fine Art Academy in The Hague. In 1881 he made his debut at the Exhibition of Living Masters in The Hague. His unfinished work “Practising the signal” (now in the Mesdag-Van Houten Collection) was purchased by the renowned painter and a friend of his father Hendrik Willem Mesdag.
Isaac’s need to distinguish himself from his father and his search for an authentic style led him to Amsterdam. There, during his enrolment at the National Academy for Fine Arts, Isaac studied with his future best friend and greatest rival George Hendrik Breitner (1857-1923). Both, inspired by the fleeting moments of city life, soon become known as Amsterdam Impressionists.
From the late 1870s Isaac Israels visited the Salon des Artistes in Paris annually with his family. He became familiar with young and innovative Parisian artists such as Toulouse-Lautrec (1864-1902) and Edgar Degas (1834-1917). Israels eventually moved from Amsterdam to Paris in 1903, where he remained for years. During these years he created numerous impressions of urban life. It is very likely that his fascination with the night life as a subject was sparked by his Parisian contemporaries.
Following the death of his father, Isaac Israels returned to The Hague in 1911 and settled in his ancestral home at the Koninginnegracht. He started working in his father’s studio at Laan van Roos en Doorn which was situated at the back of the family home. After settling in The Hague, Israels made a series of works in the popular Scala Theatre, located at the Wagenstraat. The directors provided him backstage access which allowed the artist to create several studies of the dressers, dancers and actors.
The present painting depicts the actress Greetje Lobo-Braakensiek, in the role of Eliza Doolittle in Pygmalion which was most probably staged in 1914-1915 at the Scala Theatre, The Hague. One can recognise Israels’ chair which suggests this painting has been painted in the artist’s studio and not on the spot.
In this work, Israels reveals his talent for capturing expression, pose and the essence of a moment. The slightly inclined posture of the actress, with her eyes cast in the shadow, contribute to Greetje’s seemingly nonchalant attitude. A lit cigarette in her resting hand, with a thin line of smoke, painted only with a few quick brushstrokes, shows the ephemerality of the moment. Israels excellently represents the soft light falling on the tip of her nose, pink scarf, red coat and the ring on her little finger. This portrait with dominant browns, reds and black can be recognised as a fine example of Israels’ later impressionist paintings. The portrait, probably commissioned by the Scala Theatre in The Hague, was sold when the institution closed its doors in 1956.
De Vlieger-Mol, W., Isaac Israels in Den Haag, Bussum 2012, pp. 120 & 121.