Lot 1045
  • 1045

Isaac Israels

3,500,000 - 4,800,000 HKD
bidding is closed


  • Isaac Israels
  • Portrait of a Nobleman
  • Signed
  • Oil on canvas
  • Executed circa 1915


Sotheby's Singapore, 22 October 2006, Lot 28
Acquired from the Above Sale by the Present Owner
Private Collection, Singapore


This work is in good overall condition as viewed. There is some light and stable craquelure at some areas, as well as some paint shrinkage at some areas of thick impasto, but these are consistent with the age of the work and only visible upon very close inspection. There are few, sporadic and tiny pin sized holes to the canvas. Examination under ultraviolet light reveals some tiny spots of restoration scattered at the surface and along the edges of the work, primarily at the black pigment on the seat of the kuda lumping, around the foot of the main figure and at bottom center. Framed.
In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective qualified opinion.

Catalogue Note

“Israels was an outstanding example of someone who could look. He confines himself to life as an aesthetic phenomenon. He was keen to capture that life, to hold a moment that would never return. But what struck him most in that moment was a human trait, a mood in his subject which he was able to communicate in an inscrutable way.”1


The Dutch maestro Isaac Israels is recognized as one of the leading artists of the Amsterdam Impressionist movement whose works truly capture the zeitgeist of the period at the cusp of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century.

Upon viewing this majestic work, Portrait of a Nobleman, one can easily surmise that Israels was a sharpened onlooker who rendered his subjects with skillful verisimilitude, yet he imbued his images with a personal sense of imagination and memory. Much like his dear friend and fellow artist George Hendrik Breitner, Israels was intent on portraying the limitlessness of urban life on the micro scale by representing short, fleeting moments in time. Having existed during a time when the Netherlands was recently introduced to techniques hailed from French Impressionism, Israels painted images with visible, tactile brushstrokes. Much like his French counterparts, Israels produced still pictures that appear somewhat undefined and blurred, capturing his subjects in the midst of movement. At first glance, the spontaneous and haste strokes vibrate and pulsate, so the subjects materialize as a part of an ethereal, passing instant.

Israels first encountered Javanese and Balinese dance performances during an exhibition in The Hague in 1898 and immediately became mesmerized by the exotic costumes and nimble movements. This captivation was reinforced during World War I, when he befriended a group of aristocratic Javanese students in Leiden. Determined to gain more exposure to this mystical, foreign culture, Israels attended gatherings of the ‘Indische Vereeniging’ and watched the performances of Raden Mas Jodjana, a renowned dancer of royal descent. This performer became Israels’ muse and connected the artist with the noble Javanese court.

Israels’ depictions of Indonesian subjects are habitually separated into two distinct periods: those painted while in The Hague, and those conceived during his voyage to the Dutch East Indies years later in 1921. The present lot, dated circa 1915-16, hails from the former. During this time, Israels would often render Javanese people and students living in The Hague, such as his friend Sosro Kartono, who was studying Law in the Netherlands. His models would pose for him in his studio or balcony and their surroundings were meticulously curated, much like they are in the present lot. In order to create the illusion of the tropics, Israels would borrow an assortment of ornaments, from ethnic fabrics, clothing, daggers, jewelry, wayang puppets to palm trees he would acquire from a nearby zoo.

In the present lot, Israels paints a richly decorated backdrop consisting of patterns and silhouettes of wayang puppets also featured in A Portrait of a Javanese Lady (currently in a Private Collection)2. Much like an assembled stage, this simple, Javanese milieu was one he often utilized to frame his subjects. The space itself, a shadowy interior, evokes a sense of solitude and seclusion.


The arresting figure dominates the canvas, exuding an air of mystery with his silent confidence. Seated cross-legged on a daybed, the elegantly dressed subject is garbed in his traditional costume, comprising of a sarong, a jacket and a customary head cloth known as a blangkon. Within this confined room, the contemplative Javanese aristocrat gazes into a space beyond the picture plane, turning away from the viewer. His deportment is nonchalant and unperturbed, as he calmly holds a lit cigarette between his fingers while leaning against the embellished wall behind him.


Despite the fact that the dignitary appears content within his isolation, it is evident that is an element of intimacy between the artist and his model. This sense of familiarity is suggestive of his close relationship with the Javanese community within The Hague, and it does not prevail in his works from the second Indonesian period.

Though he was a son of the well-established artist Jozef Israels and therefore grew up in the presence of collectors, dealers and other artists, Isaac Israels was primarily self-taught and eventually developed a unique, inimitable aesthetic style. While Jozef was a forerunner of The Hague School (1860 – 1890), which utilized somber colors, his son Isaac broke away from this tradition by permeating a sense of natural light into his paintings. While the earth-toned Portrait of a Nobleman learns more towards the tones used in The Hague School, his works from the second Indonesian period were typically painted en plein air and are therefore more brightly lit. Contrary to the present lot, his later works, such as Javanese Dancer, Indonesia, were painted in Indonesia and typically depict more candid scenes of people in medias res. 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.”3

Portrait of a Javanese Nobleman reveals the artist’s enthrallment with the restrained grace of the Javanese aristocrats, which was honed over centuries of court tradition. Even when relaxing in an informal setting, the nobleman effortlessly exudes an air of dignity.

It must be noted that Israel's’ works, particularly those comprising of Indonesian subject matter, are extremely rare to come by in the market. Thus, the present lot provides collectors with the rare opportunity to acquire a resplendent work from a coveted period in Israels’ oeuvre, one that stands as a defining spirit in Dutch Impressionism.


Dolf Welling, Isaac Israels: The Sunny World of a Hague Cosmopolitan, The Hague, 1991, p. 41

This painting is illustrated in J.P. Glerum, De Indische Israels, Zwolle, 2005, p. 61

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