Fine Art

Isaac Israels

Dutch, 1865-1934

Spectators of a Tableau Vivant

Watercolor on paper
14 x 19 3/4 inches (35 x 50 cm)
Framed: 10 1/2 x 26 1/2 inches (52 x 67.5 cm)


Kunsthandel Ivo Bouwman, The Hague

Isaac Israels was the son of the cultivated and sophisticated painter Jozef Israels. He was born in Amsterdam in 1865 and from an early age Israels displayed precocious artistic talent. He studied at the Royal Art Academy in The Hague from 1878 to 1880 where he met George Hendrik Breitner who became his lifelong friend. In 1881, when Israels was 16, he sold a painting, Bugle Practice, even before it was finished to the artist and collector Hendrik Willem Mesdag.

In 1886 Israels registered at the Amsterdam Academy of Art to complete his schooling. However, he quickly abandoned the academy for the more progressive circle of the Tachtigers, an influential group of writers and artists of the time. This was a group that insisted style must reflect content and that emotionally charged subjects can only be represented by an equally intense technique. Influenced by this philosophy, Israels became a painter of the streets, cafes, and cabarets of Amsterdam. At this time he met the Dutch engraver and painter Willem de Zwart who also became a lifelong friend.

Israels moved to Paris in 1904, establishing his studio at 10 rue Alfred Stevens, near Montmartre and just yards away from the studio of Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec whom he admired, as he also did Edgar Degas. As in Amsterdam, he painted the Parisian specific motifs: the public parks, cafes, cabarets and bistros, as well as such subjects as fairgrounds and circus acrobats. Likewise he sought out the fashion houses Paquin and Drecoll to continue his studies of the world of fashion. In 1923 he returned to his parent's home in The Hague, where his father's old studio became his new workplace. There, until his death, he produced his impressionist paintings with their bright and brilliant colors.

A fascinating scene of spectators and actors at a tableau vivant event is featured in this composition. The event can be described as a “living picture” as literally translated, or a style of artistic presentation where silent and motionless actors in costumes are carefully posed. The work’s original title was Performing the Three Musketeers, which gives a clue to what the two seated spectators and other assorted standing guests might be watching. The brown, red and pink tones of the composition and the quick brush strokes give the composition an air of movement and liveliness appropriate for a live performance.