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Sunday, August 17, 2014

Josef and Isaac Israels

Isaac Israels, Self-portrait, ca. 1900
Josef Israel, ca. 1900, Isaac Israels
Like father, like son. Perhaps, but only up to a point. That probably could be said of many, if not most, fathers and sons. My own son is starting to look more and more like me every day as he embarks on his early 30s. He's in the U.S. Air Force (newly promoted to staff sergeant). I was too, though I never made it past sergeant. Like my father and I, my son and I both like to travel (he's logged more miles than I, by being in the military). We share somewhat the same disposition. Other than that, we're nothing alike. We have so few interests in common that simple conversation can sometimes be a trial. My own father and I had the same problem. In the past, fathers and sons who are both artists are not as rare as one might think based upon such things today. Until the beginnings of the 20th-century, fathers trained their sons to follow in their footsteps...or tried to, anyway. Today, there are simply too many other, more attractive, more lucrative options for a young man starting out in life than following his father into art. My son couldn't even draw flies.
The First Step, Josef Israels (his son's, perhaps?)

The Jewish Marriage, 1903, Josef Israels
Josef and Isaac Israels were father and son. The father was born in 1824, his son in 1865. Josef's father wanted him to be a businessman. The family was Dutch. When we talk about the art of the Netherlands or Holland, we have a tendency to want to start with the so-called "Golden Age" (basically the 17th-century) and, unfortunately end there too. The fact is, Dutch (or Netherlandish) art neither began nor ended with this sparkling "Golden Age." We tend to think so because, unlike much of the rest of Europe, the Dutch were enjoying a stable government and flourishing economy at the time. It's not that this fact suddenly changed with the advent of the 18th-century; it's just that this happy set of circumstances managed to spread to other parts of Europe. The art and artists of France, England, Germany, and Spain simply "caught up" with the Dutch, thus their "Golden Age" became diluted. Leadership in the art world shifted and dispersed.
The Donkey Ride, 1896-1900, Isaac Israels
Although there are some similarities as to content, the paintings of Josef Israels bear little resemblance to those of his son. Josef painted with a very soft, Romantic style (not surprising in that he came of age as an artist at the height of the Romantic era). Isaac Israels' work is Impressionist. He began his studies of art as a precocious teenager, painting professional quality portraits as young as sixteen. This places him in the period when Impressionism was struggling to gain acceptance elsewhere in Europe as it had in France. Later in life (he died in 1934) his style took on many of the hallmarks of Post-Impressionism. Josef Israels' work is often compared to the French artist, Jean-François Millet, in terms of content, though their styles differ somewhat. Isaac Israels could best be compared to Monet with a touch of Cezanne.
Mother and Children by the Shore, Josef Israels
Josef Israel's training in art was limit, first under a couple quite forgettable (meaning I forget their names) painters in his hometown of Groningen. Then he attended drawing classes in Amsterdam at the art academy before eventually making it to Paris. There he attached himself to the studio of François-Édouard Picot, where he finally picked up some decent academic instruction in the fine art of painting. Then, in 1870, wife and two children in tow (Isaac and his sister), he set up shop in The Hague were he remained for the rest of his life. Though he's often considered the finest Dutch painter of the last half of the 19th-century, his major contribution to art seems to have been in simply training his highly receptive son, teaching the boy "all he knew" about art (which the kid seems to have absorbed in its entirety just during his teen years).
Military Burial, 1882, Isaac Israels

Transport of Colonial Soldiers, 1887, Isaac Israel
Realizing, perhaps, the deficiencies in his own art training, Joseph saw to it that young Isaac had the best and most thorough schooling available. First he was off to the Royal Academy in The Hague at the tender age of fifteen. A year later, he sold his first painting even before it was finished. Later, father and son took a yearly "vacation" to Paris to take in the Salon competition. Isaac made his debut there in 1882 at the age of seventeen with his Military Burial (above). He didn't win. He did, however receive an "honorable mention" in 1885 with a similar painting, Transport of Colonial Soldiers (above, left). The following year, he jettisoned the Royal Academy in favor of a group of painters and writers calling themselves the "Tachtigers," who preached emotional content in their work as well as in their style. Isaac, carefully tutored, taught, and trained painter of dour military ceremonies with an equally dour palette borrowed from his father, became a street artist. There's no record as to what his conservative, Jewish father may of though of this change, but one might guess.
Nude Reclining, Isaac Israels
The Deluge, Josef Israels
The bond between father and son was not so tendentious as to be broken. They both enjoyed the beach and painted bathers there together during the summer (the son preferring nude bathers, above). The closest his father ever came to painting nudes was a very modest Eva and a somewhat more erotic depiction of The Deluge (right). Professionally, in addition to portraits, figures, and landscapes, Isaac Israels became involved in illustrating the haute couture of Paris fashion scene. Eventually, in 1904, he moved to Paris, setting up a studio in the arty Montmartre neighborhood near the studios of Toulous-Lautrec and Edgar Degas. Once more, when not painting parading painted ladies (below, left), the younger Israels immersed himself in painting the streets and strata of the lower middle classes, this time in Paris.

Paris fashion art, 1910-16,
Isaac Israels.
Woman before Sunflowers, 1917,
Isaac Israels

During the war years, Isaac Israels lived virtually all over Europe, apparently choosing his place of abode according to the proximity and intensity of the prolonged combat. After the war, apparently having done reasonably well as an artist despite the conflict, Israels became something of a world traveler, visiting and painting in his usual European haunts, as well as India, the Dutch East Indies, Southeast Asia, even as far away as Bali in the south Pacific. Israel's declining years were spent in his parents' former home in The Hague, though he continued to travel and paint intermittently, even wining a gold medal in the 1928 Olympics. No, he didn't compete in the fifty-yard dash. At the time, the Olympic games also had an art competition. Isaac Israels died following a street accident in 1934. He was seventy.

A Table au Restaurant Le Perroquet, Paris, 1925-33, Isaac Israels.
(Recently sold for €493,600.)


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