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Josef Israels

 (1824 - 1911)
Josef Israels was active/lived in Netherlands, Holland.  Josef Israels is known for Hague School tonalist historical, figure, landscape and religious painting.

Josef Israels

Biography from the Archives of askART

Biography photo for Josef Israels

Josef Israels    Dutch     1824 - 1911

Born in Groningen, Holland, in 1824, Josef Israels was brought up in the traditions of the Jewish faith and destined for the rabbinate.  His interest in drawing grew stronger with age however, and in 1840 his father finally relented, sending him to Amsterdam.  There he spent his days working in the studio of Jan Kruseman and his evenings painting at the Royal Academy under Jan Pieneman, both leading portrait painters.  In Paris, Israels studied a short time with the historical painter Francois Picot and also at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts.

It was however, the humble fisher-folk of Zandboort, a remote village on the northern coast of Holland, who determined the direction of his art.  There, in 1855, he observed their daily routine, their natural, simple existence, with its sorrows and terrors and little joys, all unspoiled by the requirements of society.  His eyes were opened to the beauty of real life and he came to see its drama was well worth depicting. 

Of his style and the influence of Rembrandt the artist stated: "I began to realize that true art does not consist in smoothly finished drawing and scrupulously exact coloration.  I perceived that I had to occupy myself much more with the correct appreciation of light and shade, with the attitudes and movements of beings and thing… In Rembrandt alone did I find that breadth and freedom of execution which was lacking in all the others."

In 1870 Israels became one of a number of artists taking up residence at The Hague, which, like Paris, became a center to which painters flocked.  He was to become the acknowledged leader of The Hague School, which took the art of Holland to its highest point since the 17th century.

The artist won many honors; the Cross of the French Legion of Honor, a Chevalier of the Order of Leopold and even a medal at Philadelphia, but what he treasured most was the affection and admiration of his fellow countrymen who acknowledged him as a true interpreter of the Dutch character and spirit.

Biography excerpted from the unpublished catalog by Edward P. Bentley for the Haussner Restaurant in Baltimore, Maryland, titled: Haussner's, The Children.

Biography from Odon Wagner Gallery

Jozef Israels was educated at the Amsterdam Academy (1840) and at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris, under Vernet and Delaroche.  On his return to Amsterdam in 1847, he worked as a historical and religious painter and increasingly, from 1852, concentrated on Dutch history.

The work for which he was best known dates from the 1860s, when his brushwork loosened and he developed a soft tonal range of grays and browns (e.g. Maternal Bliss, 1890, Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum).  In the 1870's he settled in The Hague and became one of the leading members of  The Hague School.  He has been called the "Dutch Millet" due to his similar subject matter and sympathy for the poor (e.g. Growing Old, 1878, The Hague).  During his lifetime Israels won great popularity for his piously sentimental approach to his work.

Israels' paintings were especially popular in Britain after Fishermen Carrying a Drowned Man (1861, London, National Gallery) was exhibited at the Royal Academy.  His participation in the Paris Exhibition of 1878 cemented Israel's reputation.  His son, Isaac (1865-1934) also worked at The Hague, but in a style almost completely independent of his father's. 

In his later life Israels' work was influenced by his son, towards a lighter, more impressionistic palette.  Max Liebermann, his pupil and contemporary, wrote that "Israels first realized himself at an age at which most painters have already produced their best work; and, had he had the misfortune to die at forty, Holland would have been unable to boast of one of her greatest sons."

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About  Josef Israels

Born:  1824 - Groningen, Holland
Died:   1911 - Scheveningen, Holland
Known for:  Hague School tonalist historical, figure, landscape and religious painting