Aquarel: 68 x 53 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 Israels was not only a virtuoso painter of modern (city) life, he was also an exceptionally gifted portraitist. Especially in the last phase of his life he made commissioned portraits of important Dutch people. In this genre too, women remained his favorite subject. All his life he preferred to draw and paint maids, Amsterdam street girls, telephone operators, mannequins in department stores and nude models. His female portraits are also highlights in his oeuvre, such as those of the spy Mata Hari, the first female doctor Aletta Jacobs and the actress Fie Carelsen. Isaac Israels was used to giving his models a quick characteristic. A striking characterization had to appear on the canvas in one go. If it didn’t work right away, he would start over instead of continuing to work on the painting. “You shouldn’t dwell on things for too long, then you will get a disgrace,” he said. His best paintings are lively, spontaneous and hit just right.
However, this artwork is more than the elaboration of a colourful and exotic motif. It’s also a portrait. Israels was too good a portrait painter to be able to paint people without revealing their personality. Even his nudes and factory girls are always individuals. The model in this painting is Guusje van Dongen, the wife of his colleague Kees van Dongen. He had her pose as an exotic type in colorful Spanish costume, complete with mandolin. She poses a bit awkwardly in her blue and orange dress. Israels painted her several times in 1916 when, forced by the First World War, she was unable to return to Paris, where she lived. This painting is a highlight in that series.
Guusje van Dongen was an artist herself. She was born in 1878 in Cologne as Augusta Preitinger, the daughter of a German merchant. As a 4-year-old she moved to Rotterdam with her parents. She later studied there at the Rotterdam Academy, where she met the later world-famous painter Kees van Dongen. She left for Paris in 1895. Van Dongen followed her two years later. They married there in 1901. In 1905 they moved to Le Bateau-Lavoir in Montmartre, where Pablo Picasso also lived. In 1914 Guusje van Dongen went to the Netherlands with her daughter Dolly to visit her family. When the First World War broke out she was unable to return home and it was not until 1918 that they were able to return to Paris. Their marriage did not survive that long separation. When she returned to Paris, her husband turned out to be in a relationship with fashion designer Jasmy Jacobs. After her divorce, Guusje continued her career as a painter in Paris and continued to use the name Van Dongen.
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.