Considered to be the pioneer of the Amsterdam Impressionist movement, George Hendrik Breitner was already renowned during his lifetime for his views of Amsterdam and his scenes of everyday life. Born in Rotterdam in 1857, Breitner drew constantly as a boy, mostly war scenes with horses and fighting soldiers. In 1876 he moved to The Hague, having been accepted at the Art Academy, but four years later he was expelled for misconduct. He shared a house with Willem Maris (1844-1910) and here he came into contact with other leading artists of the Hague School, such as Anton Mauve (1838-1888), Jacob Maris (1837-1899) and Jozef Israels (1824-1911). All these people were very important for Breitner's artistic development, because during his Hague time he started using a looser handling of paint. If he had first wanted to become a history painter, now his aim was to paint everyday life, since he could not discover any truth anymore in painting idealised scenes. Breitner took after the French poet Charles Baudelaire, who appreciated timeless beauty in common things: Breitner thought the working class was much more interesting to depict than the elite. The 'peintre du peuple' was born.
As Breitner's style was defined as 'impressionist' more and more, his work became appreciated on the art market, the epitome of which was that a painting was purchased by the Rijksmuseum in 1886, an honour that had not even been given to more prominent artists, such as Anton Mauve. In the same year, Breitner decided to move to Amsterdam because of the rumours of a modern city life with a vibrant artistic atmosphere. Even though his work had already been acquired by the Rijksmuseum, he went to the Rijksakademie, where he was put in the same year as Isaac Israels (1865-1934) and Willem Bastiaan Tholen (1860-1931). And indeed the academy proved to be fruitless for the acclaimed painter. Instead the city of Amsterdam itself provided him with new motives and techniques for his art.
As an ambitious painter of modern life, Breitner became one of the leading personalities among the Tachtigers ('the Eighties Movement'); a movement striving for 'l'art pour l'art' in the visual arts and in literature. The artistic scene from The Hague had shifted to Amsterdam, because the former city was relatively quiet and sedated compared to an ever growing city like Amsterdam, hence the second phase of impressionism began here.
In the hectic setting of Amsterdam, Breitner concentrated on the sauntering ladies and their hasty maidens, snorting horses and the tinkling trams. His works, be it paintings or sketches, are nothing short of dynamic and alive. The abrupt strokes of the brush, the rigid lines of his pencil and the strong colours convey a convincing chaos of the city.
The impressions Breitner laid down in his work, were achieved through his working method. At the end of the nineteenth century the photo camera was introduced and Breitner began to take snapshots of the subjects he wanted to use in his pictures. For him, photographs could capture the movement he wanted to convey on the canvas. If he did not take snapshots, he would make sketches of the scene. These preliminary studies were used to make watercolours, because with that technique, he could quickly confine colours, lining out the impression of one moment. Only after the watercolour Breitner would make the oil painting. Therefore, it is not unusual that the same scene occurs more often among Breitner's oeuvre. However, it should be taken into account that Breitner used the photographs and sketches to his own advantage. He would still take into consideration the geographical situation, but he would change small details if that suited his composition for the better. To say that his watercolours are inferior compared to his oil paintings, would be incorrect, because exactly in his watercolours, Breitner captured a the true glimpse of the moment.
The present watercolour is made in accordance with this standard working order. Several photographs are known showing the exact same view, as another watercolour and several oil paintings. Its content, however, differs from his previous period.
In 1898 Breitner had moved to a new studio and living apartments at Prinseneiland, number 24 B, flanking the studio of the young artist Kees Maks (1876-1967). The accommodations, for which Breitner himself had made the design. He was very pleased with the result and wrote to his friend Van der Weele: 'Finally I have something people refer to as an enormous studio. It is lovely!' (see: A. Venema, G.H. Breitner 1857-1923, Bussum 1981, p. 146). In return for his new accommodation, Breitner would set out with the young Maks to explore and make sketches of the neighbourhood.
Breitner's studio was situated right opposite the Nieuwe Teertuinen, the only place where it was allowed to store tar, a flammable substance. At this new location, the subject matter of Breitner's art changed from bustling city life to serene silence. He captured the warehouses opposite his studio in his sketches, instead of cheerful maidens on the canals. What remained similar to his earlier period was his preference for ordinary subjects: Breitner still chose small boats and simple storages, instead of richly decorated buildings. The present lot exemplifies in a great manner Breitner's working method. The soft colours and the wild lines in the serene composition make this a splendid impression of this attractive part of Amsterdam.
Please compare to a similar version sold in these rooms on April 26th 1995, lot 282; and a version in watercolour previously in the collection of Mr Vattier Kraane, Aerdenhout (see: exh.cat. G.H. Breitner 1857-1923, aquarellen en tekeningen, Laren 1983, cat.no. 40).