Isaac Israels

(1865 - 1934)

Isaac Israels was a Dutch representational painter, associated with the Amsterdam Impressionist movement, and best known for his use of neutral tones and technique of flickering brushstrokes. The son of Jozef Israels, one of the most respected painters of the Hague School, Isaac displayed precocious artistic talent from an early age.

Full Artist Bio

Isaac Israels was a Dutch representational painter, associated with the Amsterdam Impressionist movement, and best known for his use of neutral tones and technique of flickering brushstrokes. The son of Jozef Israels, one of the most respected painters of the Hague School, Isaac displayed precocious artistic talent from an early age.

Between 1880 and 1882 he studied at the Royal Academy of Art, The Hague. Starting in 1878, Israels made annual visits to the Salon des Artistes Français with his father and in 1882 made his debut there with Military Burial. In the 1885 Salon he received an honourable mention for his Transport of Colonial Soldiers.

Beginning in 1886, Israels lived in Amsterdam and registered at the Royal Academy of Visual Arts to complete his schooling. However, he quickly abandoned the academy for the more progressive circle of the Tachtigers, an influential group of writers and artists of the time. This was a group that insisted style must reflect content and that emotionally charged subjects can only be represented by an equally intense technique. Influenced by this philosophy, Israels became a painter of the streets, cafes, and cabarets of Amsterdam. Fascinated by the idea of portraying city life by capturing a passing moment in time, he cropped his subjects abruptly.

He often spent his summers with his father in the Dutch seaside resort of Scheveningen near The Hague. Guests included Édouard Manet and Max Liebermann. Interested by the changing light of sun and sea, he painted many colourful seaside scenes.

Towards the end of the century, Israels was introduced by his childhood friend and portrait painter Thérèse Schwartze to the Amsterdam fashion house Hirsch & Cie at the Leidseplein. Israels portrayed the whole range of the world of haute couture, from seamstress to wealthy client, gaining access even to the fitting-rooms.

Israels moved to Paris in 1904, establishing his studio at 10 rue Alfred Stevens, near Montmartre and just yards away from the studio of Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec whom he admired, as he also did Edgar Degas. As in Amsterdam, he painted the Parisian specific motifs: the public parks, cafes, cabarets and bistros, as well as such subjects as fairgrounds and circus acrobats. Likewise he sought out the fashion houses Paquin and Drecoll to continue his studies of the world of fashion. However, he only exhibited once in this period, in 1909.

At the outbreak of the First World War he was living in London, where he found new subjects such as scenes on famous London streets, horse-riding at Rotten Row, and ballerinas and boxers. He returned to Holland for the duration of the war, living alternately in The Hague, Amsterdam and Scheveningen, where he worked primarily as a portrait painter. Amongst his sitters was Magaretha Gertrud Zelle, better known as Mata Hari, executed as a spy in France in 1917. Her portrait can be seen at the Kröller-Müller Museum. Other sitters included Johanna van Gogh-Bonger and the feminist physician Aletta Jacobs, although he also portrayed ordinary subjects such as girls in the street and telephone operators.

Following the war, Israels visited Paris, Copenhagen, Stockholm and London. He spent the years 1921 to 1922 travelling in India and the Dutch East Indies, sketching and painting the vibrant life of South East Asia and notably the gamelan players of Bali. On his return, he settled at Koninginnegracht 2, The Hague, his deceased parents’ home, where he remained for the rest of his life, nevertheless making regular trips abroad to London, Italy and the French Riviera.

At the age of 63, he won a Gold Medal at the 1928 Olympic Games for his painting Red Rider, an art competition then being part of the games.

Today, his works are in the collections of the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, the Frans Hals Museum in Haarlem, the Ashmolean Museum at the University of Oxford, and the Groninger Museum, among others.

He died in The Hague on 7 October 1934, aged 69, as a result of a street accident a few days before.