Oil on canvas: 95 x 60 cm
Signed ‘Isaac Israels’ lower left
Painted c. 1890-1910
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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. Just as this current artwork of a young girl drummer. He painted multiple artworks of this still unknown girl, probably someone practising for a Gamelan concert. Gamelan refers to the traditional Indonesian percussion orchestra and to the set of musical instruments used. The preliminary sketch for this painting can be found in the collection of the Rijksmuseum.
The present work comes closest to two others by Isaac Israels in important Dutch public collections: Trommelslaagster in the Teylers Museum, Haarlem (147 x 90cm, and dated circa 1903-14), and Trommelaarster in the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam (100 x 65 cm, dated circa 1890-1910). All three appear to depict the same North African or Indonesian woman dressed in the same loose-fitting attire, two captured mid-performance before an unseen audience, of the three this work is captured perhaps before or after the performance.
The setting for this work is also slightly different, without the poster of wrestlers seen on the wall in the other two, the composition framed by a stage along the lower edge and doorway to the right. Its execution is particularly fluent and free, the gold highlights in the woman’s blouse creating an abstracted pattern of brushstrokes.
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.