Cecil van Haanen was born into a Dutch family in Vienna, in November 1844. Having attended a regular course of instruction at the Academy in Vienna and six years in Antwerp, in 1873 he visited Venice for the first time. It was here that he came under the influence of Alberto Pasini and eventually, such was his fascination with the place, he resolved to settle on the Lagoon.
Documental sources regarding The pearl stringers (formerly known as The Bead-Stringers) have recently been sorted and partially published by Paul Nicholls in a discursive essay for the magazine L'8: Studi e Ricerche sulla pittura italiana dell'Ottocento. This article relates to the pictorial compositions of foreign artists and their direct influence upon contemporary Venetian painters of the later half of the nineteenth century.
The most important document relating to the current painting is an article by Pinkerton, published in The Magazine of Art in 1887. He noted that '...when, in 1876, van Haanen exhibited his brilliant canvas, The Bead-Stringers, in Paris, it achieved sudden success. It obtained a third-class medal; and two years later the artist reproduced the subject on a larger scale and with additional figures. When shown in Paris in 1878 it gained another medal, and was soon bought by Mr. J.J. Elliott.' The present work is dated '876' and in comparison with the engraving reproduced in The Magazine of Art of 1887 (Fig.1), it is evident that it is the first version of The Bead-Stringers, exhibited and awarded with a third class medal at the Salon in Paris in 1876. The engraving is of the second version (size and location unknown) in which the compositional differences and the additional figures mentioned by Pinkerton are clearly visible. This later version was exhibited at the Salon of 1878 in Paris and at the Royal Academy in London in 1880 and published that year in Emporio pittoresco, 1880, pp.197-199 (illustrated).
From an historical and artistic point of view, the determining element of the importance of the painting is the date - 1876 - which indicates the initial and most creative stage of this particular pictorial composition. Groups of young girls seated in the streets and courts to string beads, repairing garments, listening to tales and gossip, or taking tea were well documented. However, following the exhibition of van Haanen's works, the theme was adapted, with some variants by several Italian and foreign artists, such as Noé Bordignon, Egisto Lancerotto, Alessandro Milesi, Ettore Tito and Eugène von Blaas. Pinkerton infact underlines the great success of the painting: "The merit, the charm of van Haanen's first pictures lay in" their originality. They were so new in form and feeling; this presentment of Venetian popular life was so simple, so novel; it was done with such sincerity and strength, with such cunning effects of life and colour, that the public eye was arrested, surprised, delighted. Everybody who saw The Bead-Stringers praised the brilliancy of is colour and its skilful composition. Its originality, after all, was the best of it. There is no doubt that the picture exercised a great influence upon some painters, who straight-away went and did likewise'.