Thursday, May 25, 2017

George Hendrik Breitner - Dutch "Impressionist"

Art historians call George Hendrik Breitner (1857-1923) one of the "Amsterdam Impressionists." However, his paintings don't align with the kind of artwork commonly associated with Impressionism. Yet, his approach to painting arguably remained more authentic and true to the basic tenets of the movement than his better-knows French compeers like Monet, Renoir, and Pissarro. 

One of Impressionism's guiding principles (inherited from the Barbizon painters of the 1830s) was the direct, unmediated depiction of contemporary life. For the pioneering Barbizon painters, that meant rejecting official Academic painting and turning to the observed rural landscape and the life of the "common" people who worked the land. 

In contrast, the French Impressionists largely focused on the urban scene, and, as did leading American Impressionists, often on the leisure activities of the middle- and upper-classes. They also strayed from realism (though they'd argue they were being faithful to how vision actually processes what the eye takes in, according to the new science of optics and color) by way of technical developments such as the translation of light into broken color (the reason for the characteristic flecks and dots of paint). 

Breitner, like others in the Dutch Hague School, seems to have digested the basic premise of painting life as at is really lived and seen but rejected the technical flash and polish of the French school as a too-sophisticated mannerism for contemporary life in all its jumbled, gritty reality. The paintings he made remain startlingly fresh and gloriously un-idealized.

According the Rijksmuseum, "Breitner was born in Rotterdam. In 1876, he enrolled at the academy in The Hague. Later, he worked at Willem Maris's studio. In this early period he was especially influenced by the painters of the Hague School. Breitner preferred working-class models: laborers, servant girls and people from lower-class neighborhoods. He saw himself as 'le peintre du peuple', the people's painter. In 1886, he moved to Amsterdam, where he recorded the life of the city in sketches, paintings and photos. Sometimes he made several pictures of the same subject, from different angles or in different weather conditions. Photos might serve as an example for a painting, as for his portraits of girls in kimonos, or as general reference material. Breitner often collaborated with Isaac Israels; both painters are referred to as Amsterdam Impressionists. Conservative critics called Breitner's style 'unfinished'."

He also took powerful photographs and worked with them for reference. The Rijksmuseum has a nice selection of his work on this page.


  1. The photos ,for reference are evident. But lovely work.
    Thank you for your post.

  2. Thank You Chris....another great job...keep up the good work!!!
    .Frank( big Woodburg Painting guy)

    1. Thanks Frank! Been a while. Thanks for checking in :-)

  3. Replies
    1. Thanks Sarah, I plan to keep up with more frequent posts even if just to share pics or a new discovery, like this one