Isaac Israelsartist • painter • watercolourist • draughtsmanAmsterdam 1865-1934 Den Haag
biography of 'Isaac' Lazarus Israels
Portrait of 'Isaac' Lazarus Israels
Isaac Israels is, together with George Hendrik Breitner, the most important representative of the Amsterdam Impressionists. These artists moved in the circle of the Tachtigers, a group of writers and poets who used the motto Art is passion. For the Amsterdam Impressionists, the painting was partly the expression of an artist's feeling and brushwork and palette had to be tailored to the subject. In contrast to their fellow painters from The Hague, who mainly depicted wealthy city life, they found their subjects on the street. They drew inspiration from popular cafes and dance houses and traveled to impoverished neighborhoods, harbors and construction sites, the places where the life of the common man took place. The Amsterdam artists put their impressions on the canvas with an eventful, sometimes fierce brushwork and a dramatic, dark color palette of browns, reds and black, with white accents. With this they expressed their strong personal and social involvement in the gray life of these people. Israels painted fragments of 'accidental life', which he found in the shopping streets, coffee houses and café chantants where the busy city life took place. The artist recorded what he saw in a few striking charcoal lines or loose, quick brushstrokes with subtle color accents. He also painted light-hearted beach scenes in Scheveningen and along the Italian Riviera and was an accomplished portraitist.
Born in 1865 as the son of Jozef Israëls, Isaac Israels was raised on painting. Within the Amsterdam Orthodox Jewish family where he grew up, much attention was paid to painting and literature; every year the family visited the Paris salon and visited leading European artists including Max Liebermann, and befriended art dealers. Isaac, who showed talent at an early age, was taken from school by his parents when he was thirteen to be apprenticed to his father. From 1878-1880 Isaac attended the Academy of The Hague, where Marius Bauer, Floris Verster and George Breitner were his fellow students. In 1881 Isaac made his debut at the Exhibition for Living Masters in The Hague with a painting that was immediately purchased by Hendrik Willem Mesdag, a good colleague of his father. Isaac, however, did not want to follow in the footsteps of his famous father. In his early years he initially concentrated on figure pieces, portraits, processions and especially military subjects. After that, Israels developed his own purpose; capturing an impression of a moment from full life, where it was not about the detailed elaboration, but the subject itself. He did this in a clear, colorful palette and a loose, impressionistic brushstroke. Not only does Isaac differ from his father in painting style, their subjects are also completely different. Where Jozef depicted emotions in heavy, sentimental works and the beach and dunes are the backdrop for Scheveningen fisherwomen and their children, the light-footed Isaac painted elegantly dressed ladies in summer toilets in the city and later bathers at the Lido of Venice or Viareggio beach. This distinguished himself from the French Impressionists, for whom an elaborate light, sun and color effect was the most important means and earned him the nickname 'the Dutch Impressionist'.
Isaac's work shows clear affinity with that of George Hendrik Breitner, with whom he moved to Amsterdam in 1886. Israels became a member of Arti et Amicitiae and included in the circle of De Nieuwe Gids. With Breitner and his friend Frans Erens, critic and writer, Israels wandered through Amsterdam at night and visited pubs and dance houses. The city prompted Israels and Breitner to paint fleeting moments from city life, daring oil paintings of pedestrians at night, maids and the old neighborhoods, which earned them the name 'Amsterdam Impressionists'. They also introduced the photographic 'snapshot', by adding radical cut-offs to their paintings.
In the summer, Isaac was in Scheveningen, where he lived in a rented house with his father and captured the beach and boulevard in fast, virtuoso brushstrokes and a sunny palette. Around 1900, thanks to Thérèse Schwartze, he was introduced to the Amsterdam fashion warehouse Hirsch on Leidseplein, where he painted seamstresses, mannequins and ladies' dresses. Hirsch's sisters Ippy and Gertie, mannequins, were his beloved models, whom we see worked out in great detail in the early work, while in later years Israels sketched out the fashion silhouette.
In 1903, Israels moved to Paris, where he lived for ten years and where he found in abundance what he has always been looking for: dance houses, cabarets, and the elegant world of haute couture. Israel could gain access to exclusive fashion houses as Paquin and Drecoll, where he not only observed the wealthy clientele, but also could capture the work of seamstresses and hat makers, in their work, but also in their lunch in the nearby Tuileries. In addition, the park views with elegant riders and elegantly dressed women on a bench inspired him to paint in pastel or watercolor techniques. It is remarkable that his work found little appreciation in France, while in Dutch terms it had a very 'French' feel. After his time in Paris, the travel-loving Israels went to London for two years in 1913-1915, where the riders and amazons on Rotten Row in Hyde Park were often his subject, but also boxers and ballerinas. This was followed by a stay in Switzerland, after which he settled back in the Netherlands and stayed alternately in The Hague, Amsterdam and Scheveningen. In 1921-1922 he made a trip to the Dutch East Indies where he stayed mainly on Java and visited the island of Bali, where he painted many female figures.
After returning from the Dutch East Indies, Israels settled permanently in the house of his deceased parents at Koninginnegracht 2 in The Hague. He would live here - apart from a number of short trips - until his death. In the latter period in The Hague he gained a lot of recognition in the Netherlands and he received a large number of portrait commissions. The ever-present attention to the fringes of life was expressed in later life in his interest in circus, cabaret, theater and cafes. Israel's extensive oeuvre of some 3000-4000 paintings and thousands of drawings, watercolors and pastels can be considered more or less as isolated. His legacy consists of sunny beach scenes with donkey-riding children, portraits of famous actresses and writers, fairground and circus scenes with wrestlers and acrobats, cityscapes with Amsterdam and Parisian street life, fashionable ladies in the latest fashion and café interiors with dancing couples or a lonely drinking woman; he made portraits of celebrities such as Mata Hari and feminist doctor Aletta Jacobs, but he also painted anonymous Amsterdam street girls, hat makers and telephone operators. Israels stuck to his once acquired style and hardly renewed himself. According to his friend Frans Erens, he was a good and righteous person who, always remained alone, lived a sober and withdrawn life, which made him look reserved. He could not harm anyone, did not like formality and convention and was always looking for the 'real' in everything.
On October 7, 1934, two days after he was hit by a car, Israels died at home from internal injuries.