March 30, 2020

Israëls: The Dutch Emotionalist

Romanticism. That is the greatest calling that an artist could strive for. This is why I so passionately believe that Joseph Israels, although greatly forgotten and underrated by history, is one of the great Jewish romanticists. Deemed as “the most respected Dutch artist of the 19th Century”, Israels’ paintings are exquisite, not only because of their aesthetics, but also their emotional content.

Yet, to be rather honest, it comes down to a lot more than just form and style. Israels’ brushstrokes are scintillating and mesmerizing. The very lack of clarity that they carry is what makes them so alluring; perhaps nearly as interesting as the life of the man who produced them.

Born in Holland in 1824, Israels grew up in a pretentious, high-brow Jewish family, whose wealth stemmed from banking. By the time he was an adolescent he had already began working for his father, in an egregious and bland desk job, which I am sure he most likely detested. Nevertheless, Israel’s artistic compulsion forced him to go against his father, and take up his passion for the brush.

With an easel in his arm and paint in the other, his talent, as well as drive, got him to the Amsterdam Fine Arts Academy, which despite its prestige, only served as a stepping stone for Jozef who later went on to study under masters such as Picot and Delaroche in beautiful Paris.

He, as many others, found great passion and inspiration in his peers, but consequently he did not find success in painting the traditional scenes of royalty and the romantic elite.  Even his timely switch to the depiction of the lower classes, namely peasants and workers, did not work out as planned for Israels. He chose to depict the exact opposite of the romantic spectrum: the drudgery of life.

His work began to exhibit far darker themes of solitude and the toils of work, and perhaps less surprisingly the hardships of life itself. Yet, he achieved this not by conventional means, but rather through depicting individuals and their own faint narratives, which although might seem inconsequential, do yield a great deal of emotions.