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 George Hendrik Breitner  (1857 - 1923)

About: George Hendrik Breitner


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Lived/Active: Netherlands/Holland      Known for: Hague School realist working-class genre paintings, nudes, city scenes

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BIOGRAPHY for George Breitner
1857 (Rotterdam, Holland)
1923 (Amsterdam, Holland)


Often Known For
Hague School realist working-class genre paintings, nudes, city scenes

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This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Please note: Artists not classified as American in our database may have limited biographical data compared to the extensive information about American artists.

A realist painter and photographer from Holland, George Hendrik Breitner did painting that was very popular among the general public but was disdainful to many late 19th/early 20th century art critics because at a time when modernism and its abstractions were taking hold, he promoted realism.  He saw himself as the painter of the people, and the people responded with great fondness for his work.  Among his favorite subjects were city scenes with working-class people in low-income neighborhoods such as servant girls and construction workers.  He was also a painter of female nudes and received criticism for them for being too real and not promoting idealistic beauty.

Early in his career, from 1877 to 1883, he was financially supported in this return to realism by A.P. van Stolk, a man interested in art and dedicated to influencing its directions.  However, van Stolk and Breitner had a falling out because Breitner had a unique style that did not conform to the conservative leanings of van Stolk.  Also influencing Breitner in his stand against modernism was his association in the 1880s with 'De Tachtigers' (The Eighties) a Dutch group of artists.

Breitner received his early art education from 1876 to 1880 at the Art Academy in the Hague, and there he received much encouragement for his talents.  For the last year of his attendance there, he taught art at the Leiden academy, Ars Aemula Naturae.  Then in 1880, he was expelled from the Academy in Hague for destroying a board that posted a list of their regulations.  That year, he lived at Loosduinen, the home of realist landscape painter Willem Maris, and he was voted into membership into Pulchri Studio, a prestigious artist society in The Hague.

In 1882, Breitner began working with Vincent Van Gogh, and they painted together in the poorer sections of The Hague.  In 1886, he began painting instruction at the Rijksacademie of Amsterdam, but he left as it soon became obvious that the curriculum was not challenging to him.

Beginning in the 1890s, photography became available, and using cameras fed his special interest in capturing movement and the play of light against dark.   From that time, many of his paintings are set in cloudy-day lighting, and today when city streets in Holland are rainy and grey, some people say:  "Echt Breitnerweer", meaning in English, Typical Breitnerweather.

By the early 20th century, Breitner was quite famous in his own country, and in 1901, a well-received retrospective exhibition of his work was held at the Arti et Amicitiae in Amsterdam.  He traveled to the United States in 1909 to jury the Carnegie International Exhibition in Pittsburgh, but going beyond his own boundaries, he and others realized that his fame was mostly confined to Holland.  And living until 1923, he never adopted the popular 'isms' such as Cubism, Futurism, Impressionism, and Expressionism.


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