Lot 31
  • 31

Isaac Israels

1,800,000 - 2,800,000 HKD
2,200,000 HKD
bidding is closed


  • Isaac Israels
  • A Portrait Of A Seated Javanese Beauty
  • Signed
  • Oil on canvas


Formerly in the collection of Hartog
Private Collection, Belgium
Sotheby's Amsterdam, October 15 2008, Lot 207
Acquired by the Present Owner at the Above sale

Catalogue Note

“In 1898 a critic wrote that Isaac ‘slashed’, [for] when one has the privilege of seeing him work, one can see how he repeatedly stabs, as with a dagger, at the canvas: punches as if suddenly inspired, immediately executed, interrupted by waiting for inspiration, again and again a series of tremolos of color blotched onto the patient canvas; and yet one sees the firmness and decisiveness in the movements of hand and arm.

Dolf Welling, Isaac Israels: The Sunny World of a Hague Composition Part One, Van Voorst Van Beest Gallery, The Hague, Netherlands, 1991, p. 37

Isaac Israels was the son of the well-established artist Jozef Israels. Regarded as a ‘maverick in Holland’1 and a fastidious observer, Israels’ paintings are characterized by an inscrutable quality that expresses the various moods and sentiments of modern urban life during the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. Be it a portrait or a street scene, Israels’ works are always imbued with a sense of intimacy or alchemy that existed between him and his subjects. Painting what he saw in his mind, the artist allowed transformations to happen between the collaboration of his memory, perception and imagination. For this reason, he is recognized as one of the leading artists of Dutch Impressionism.

A prodigy as well as a self-taught painter, Israels began his artistic career by sketching the models who posed at his father’s studio. He eventually developed a style that was not only unique, and different from his father’s style, but also had little in common with The Hague School artists at the time. It was said that Israels “did not pursue the pictorial poetry of the ‘grey’ school, but aimed at a careful and exact depiction of scenes just as they presented themselves in reality”2. Described by his friend Frans Erens as an “intelligent connoisseur of most of the European literature”, the artist’s vision extended far beyond his immediate environment3. At the age of eighteen, Israels submitted his painting entitled “Funeral Of The Hunter” to the Paris Salon of 1882, where it was soon to be highly praised in Le Figaro (one of the largest national newspapers in France that was founded in 1826). Albert Wolff, who was editor and the leading art critic at the newspaper during this period, praised Israels’ painting as “one of the rare canvases that captivate and set one thinking”4. Israels’ success in Paris immediately garnered sensation throughout Europe. Together with Rodin and other foreign artists of such caliber, in 1884 he was chosen to take part in the first exhibition of the Belgian avant-garde group known as ‘Les XX’.

In the present Lot, A Portrait of a Seated Javanese Beauty, Israels portrays a graceful young woman in bold, freely-applied, vigorous strokes. His broad and dynamic brushworks suggest an air of spontaneity. The figure takes up the majority of the pictorial space, filling the interior with her arresting presence. With her body positioned at a certain angle, the woman’s gaze does not meet that of her spectator. Her posture further exudes an attractive, quiet confidence. Deducing from the way she sits, the viewer understands that the Javanese beauty could very possibly be a dancer, as well as a friend of the artist. Indeed, it has reached consensus that “his best portraits are informal ones of other artists, and of people he knew and liked”5 as commented by the Dutch historian Dolf Welling. Sunlight filters into the room, infusing the canvas with a warm radiance. Accents of pale ochre and pinkish red are used to illuminate the earth-toned palette. This is especially apparent in the woman’s rosy complexion and delicately defined bone structure, which accentuates her youthful features and graceful posture.

What captivates the audience’s attention is, without a doubt, the rawness of this canvas piece. The background wall framing the figure is rendered in vigorous strokes, and applied with a quick yet sure hand. In doing so, Israels has created a sense of volume and shadow in what is otherwise an abstract background. The intervals of forceful slashes paired with the more finely articulated brushstrokes, create a symphony of vibrant colors and textures that are richly nuanced within the work’s composition. Israel's last trips to Indonesia during the years of 1921 and 1922 exposed him to a world far removed from the Parisian beau monde. A Portrait of a Seated Javanese Beauty demonstrates his affinity for the Javanese people and culture, as well as his proficiency in capturing notable human qualities in the art of portraiture.

1Dolf Welling, Isaac Israels: The Sunny World of a Hague Cosmopolitan, Van Voorst van Beest Gallery, The Hague, The Netherlands, 1991

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