“Art is not what you see, but what you make others see.” - Edgar Degas
Isaac Lazarus Israels was a Dutch painter associated with the Amsterdam Impressionist movement. Isaac Israels was born in 1865 into an Orthodox Jewish family in Amsterdam. In 1871 the family moved to The Hague, where his father Jozef Israels (1824-1911) was already a well-respected painter. Between 1880-1882 he studied at the Royal Academy of Art, The Hague, where he showed a remarkable talent for drawing at an early age and started as an artist in The Hague.
It was not long until his portraits, which were painted in an impressionistic style similar to his father’s, were held in high esteem. However, the young Israels did not want to follow in his father’s footsteps and returned to Amsterdam in 1887. His goal was simple: To develop his own, unique, painterly style, recording an impression in an exceptionally quick manner. Israels found that it was not minute details and perfection that were most important but rather capturing the essence of the subject.
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, cafés, 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 continued painting motifs specific to the city he lived, such as buses and famous London streets such as Regent Street, as well as finding new subjects in horse-riding at Rotten Row and in 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. Following the war, Israels visited Paris, Copenhagen, Stockholm and London.
He spent the years 1921-1922 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.
He died in The Hague on 7 October 1934, aged 70, as a result of a street accident a few days before. His partner at that time was Sophie de Vries.
The painting above is his “Hat Studio”, a good example of his rapid, impressionistic style where the artist’s prime concern is to capture a moment and give the viewer an idea of the way in which this tableau registered in his mind. The milliners are busy at work, surrounded by hats and taking central place is the fitting of a bit of trim on a hat worn by one of the women. This is an appealing work because of its immediacy, its free and fresh colour and brushwork, and its deceptively simple composition and execution.