ISAAC ISRAËLS (1865–1934)
‘Portrait of a seated Javanese man’,
signed lower left, canvas, 76 x 56 cm.
In 1898 the Nationale Tentoonstelling van Vrouwenarbeid was organized in The Hague to honour the coronation of Queen Wilhelmina. A section of this exhibition called ‘Insulinde’ was devoted to the Dutch East Indies; Isaac Israëls was impressed by the Javanese dancers. From then on he would regularly paint Javanese dancers, musicians and portraits. It would be twenty years, before he would travel to Java and Bali, which he did in December 1921. He stayed for only ten months.
Isaac Israëls’ ‘Indonesian’ pictures can be more or less divided into two different periods. The first comprises the pictures with an Indonesian theme painted in The Hague and the second, Indonesian subjects painted in the Dutch East Indies. The most striking difference between these two periods is the rendering of light and colour. In his The Hague period, light was more subdued and colours tended more toward The Hague School tones like grey, green and brown. In the Dutch East Indies Israëls preferred his subject to be outside in broad daylight, which is reflected in his pictures.
The current lot can be dated circa 1915/1916. During these years, he portrayed many Javanese living in The Hague, as well as Javanese students (among them his friend, the law student Sosro Kartono).
They posed in his studio or on his balcony at home. To give the pictures a true Indonesian feel, Israëls borrowed attributes like Oriental clothing, daggers, jewelry and wayang dolls. He even obtained palm trees from the zoo across the street (see: J. Ubbens, ‘Isaac Israëls en de Oriënt’, in: Isaac Israëls, Hollands Impressionist, Schiedam 1999, p. 128).
The chair the Javanese young man is sitting on in the present lot, is depicted in several other portraits from his Hague period. It is not completely clear whether the young man is being painted inside or outside. It could well be somewhere in a tropical part of the zoo, just across the street from Israëls’ house. Are we looking at a background formed by folding screens with Indonesian flower motives, or is it real tropical flowers and vegetation, and maybe even a peacock, just left of the chair? The direct sunlight is scattered across his torso and cloth. He is clearly at ease, smoking a cigarette, plunged in thought.
What is most striking about the current painting, are the vivid colours. This 1915-1916 work has the
illuminating brightness of the works he made in Java in 1922, while most other portraits from the 1915-1916 period have a more subdued colour palette. In this painting, we see Israels at his best; slashing his brush strokes across the canvas, transparent, colour and composition well balanced, every stroke spot-on. The ease and nonchalance of the sitter beautifully corresponds with Israels’ inimitable way of painting.
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