George Hendrik Breitner isone of the leading figures of the Amsterdam impressionist movement. As 'Le peintre du peuple’, he didn’t want to paint classical themes or make realistic historical paintings in an academic manner. Foremost he wanted to depict everyday life. After permanently settling in Amsterdam in 1886, he was often found roaming through the streets with his sketchbook and camera to capture the daily lives of construction workers, labourers, maidservants and playing children. The bustling city life would become a recurring subject in his oeuvre. Along with his detailed sketches, his photographs can be seen as preliminary studies, which he would use in his studio and translate into paint.
By the turn of the century Breitner was at the peak of his career. He had received numerous honours and took pride of place in many exhibitions. In 1895 he was made a Knight in the Order of Orange-Nassau and the Order of Leopold. His work in the closing years of the 19th century became increasingly challenging and confrontational, while his use of colour and contrast was bold and self-assured. Breitner was the master of the impression. He captured what he saw with vigorous brushstrokes: a fleeting moment, a fragment in time. Conveying an impression was painting at its purest, the eye does the rest.
The present lot is a fine example of Breitner's bold approach and a typical example of Amsterdam School Impressionism which engages us in the concentrated moments of activity of common people. Depicted is the Paleisstraat near the Spuistraat at night. Breitner probably painted the present lot in the late 1890's. At that time, his studio was on the Lauriergracht, near the canals and the Paleisstraat.
The main part of the composition is taken up by the street, with lights from the shop windows reflecting on the cobblestones. From circa 1889 the introduction of electrical light in the shop windows captured the attention of Breitner. Against the dark background of the impressive buildings, striking contrasts are created by the bright yellow and oranges colours he used for the shoplights. With a few swift lines he indicated the dresses worn by the women. His dark pallet and subtle composition create a beautiful sense of space and displays the characteristic tension between impressionism and expression for which Breitner is so highly appreciated. Clearly, so-called chiaroscuro or the effect of light and dark is very important in the present painting. Breitner brilliantly translates a swiftly passing ordinary moment of street activity in a beautiful painterly unity of colour and form. His cityscapes of Amsterdam - such as the present lot - were highly sought after and people flocked to buy these pieces.