Lot 390
  • 390

ISAAC ISRAELS | Two Javanese Ladies

750,000 - 980,000 HKD
Log in to view results
bidding is closed


  • Isaac Israels
  • Two Javanese Ladies
  • Signed
  • Oil on canvas
  • 60 by 50 cm; 23 1/2  by 19 3/4  in.


Private Collection of Mr. Rob Noortman, Heerlen, The Netherlands
Private Collection of Drs. G. Beijer, Maastricht, The Netherlands
Private Collection, The Netherlands
Private Collection, Singapore


Arti & Amicitiae, Amsterdam, The Netherlands, 1930, with an illustration on the cover of Gallery Wiegersma, Deurne, Spring exhibition 1972
Rijksmuseum Amsterdam, The Netherlands, 19 October - 10 December 1972, ' Nederlandse schilders en tekenaars in de Oost', cat. no. 119
Museum Mesdag, The Hague, The Netherlands, Summer 2005


Elsevier monthly magazine, The Hague 1926, no. 36, part 72, page 9 with illustration


This work is in good overall condition as viewed. There is evidence of light wear along the edges of the work due to abrasions with the frame, but this does not affect the overall image as it is mostly covered by the frame itself. All other inconsistencies are due to the artist's working method. Examination under ultraviolet light reveals no sign of restoration as viewed. 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. Prospective buyers should also refer to any Important Notices regarding this sale, which are printed in the Sale Catalogue.

Catalogue Note

Born the son of Josef Israels, an eminent artist and member of The Hague School, Isaac Israels became one of the most important Indo-European artists and portraitists of his generation. The younger Israels, also known as the ‘maverick in Holland’[1], was very much a distinguished painter in his own right, leading the Amsterdam impressionist movement. Israels’ prodigious talent was recognised from a tender age and left the Amsterdam Art Academy only after two years, choosing to learn his craft on his own. Largely self-taught, Israels was a very demanding on himself[2] and eventually developed his artistry with his penetrating observations, captured fleeting moments that would never return.  

In The Hague, students from the Dutch East-Indies and the Indonesian dancer, Raden Mas Jodjana, would pose for Israels. He went on to painting more Indonesian subjects after his voyage to the Dutch East Indies in 1921. The present lot, Two Javanese Ladies (dated circa. 1920s), was likely painted after this life-changing voyage.


With its understated charm, the present lot has had a prolific exhibition history, cementing Israels’ finesse and position as a recognized maestro in both Europe and Southeast Asia. In 1930, Two Javanese Ladies was exhibited in Arti & Amicitiae, the Dutch artists’ society that was instrumental in developing the visual arts scene in the Netherlands. It was subsequently presented in Gallery Wiegserma’s spring exhibition of 1972, and displayed in the Rijksmuseum Amsterdam, the principal national museum of Holland, within the same year. Most recently, in 2005, the piece was exhibited at The Mesdag Collective and continues to draw audiences for its quiet and delightful appeal.


The principal focus of Two Javanese Ladies is on the woman in the foreground, whose upper body takes up majority of the pictorial space. She squarely faces the front, captivating the viewer with her piercing stare. Her peaceful face emanates a quiet, yet assured confidence, an effect that Israels often endows his female sitters.In the left background, the other Javanese woman, somewhat obscured by darker and muted hues,  casts  a sideward glance, raising her eyebrows almost inquisitively. In contrast to her companion, her attire is simply rendered in broad brushstrokes while her thoughtful expression suggests a narrative in this otherwise portrait composition. A talented communicator, Israels thus captures a curious moment that is at once charismatic and sweet.


The women tie their hair up in sanggul, a traditional Javanese hairstyle, and are clad in kebaya, the traditional women’s blouse. One may deduce that the lady in the front is an aristocrat, as she appears to be wearing kebaya kartini, a variation donned by Indonesian high society. In Java, Israels gained access to the noble Javanese court and was favoured amongst its members and their families. The artist draws our attention the necklace hanging delicately around the woman’s neck that would have signalled her noble bearing.

The pastel pinks and cream blouses, as well as the greyish-brown background capture Israels’ signature use of neutral tones, harkening back to the tendencies of the The Hague School of painting. Yet, this subdued palette is animated by the artist’s dynamic handling of paint as he did not blend his strokes smoothly, but instead left them to bear his confident impressions upon the canvas. In 1898 a critic described the firmness and decisiveness of Israels’ brush strokes—‘he repeatedly stabs, as with a dagger, at the canvas: punches as if suddenly inspired, immediately executed, interrupted by waiting for inspiration’[3]. This broad brushwork is juxtaposed against the more detailed renderings of the women’s facial features while is cast in a gentle light.

Extensively exhibited since the 1930s, Two Javanese Women is a lovely and recognized painting of technical sophistication and undeniable charm. Moreover, the artist opens a window into an intimate space as he portrays his sitters in a way that confronts the conventional subject-viewer relationship. The women’s gazes reveal their self-awareness while capturing their elegant features with the utmost delicacy, thus demonstrating the strengths of a true Indo-European maestro.

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

[2] ibid

[3] ibid