Following an illness which seriously affected his eyesight and temporarily prevented the artist from painting, George Hendrik Breitner returned to Amsterdam in circa 1893 and started his well-known serie of 'Japanese kimono girls'. During the period of approximately a year, Breitner committed himself solely to the painting of these intimate interior pieces in which the model Geesje Kwak is shown wearing red, white and blue kimonos in various postures. The first five versions of the motive portray the model daydreaming on a sofa from close-up. The later series, including at least four interpretations of the "earring", show the female figure standing in front of a mirror in a more defined setting.
Whilst Breitner's fame is based particularly on his impressive cavalry charges and bustling city scenes, the kimono girls stilistically and thematically occupy an exceptional position in his oeuvre. Breitner habitually recorded his immediate impressions with a feverish temperament and thus tended to neglect the formal qualities of his work. By concentrating on a whole new, more tranquil genre, the artist forced himself to view his subject-matter attentively and bestow his pictures with a solidity of form. It is also believed that the convalescing artist found solace and comfort in the company of the frail hat seller from the Jordaan, and that this contact led to the series of kimono girls. Prelimenary sketches and photographs reveal that Breitner had his model walk around the studio freely and naturally, thereby accumulating artistic ideas on the spot. Breitner most probably chose to portray the model putting on an earring, as the specific posture emphasizes the elegance of the slender figure and makes her silhouette stand out against the back wall.
In contrast to the picture sold at Christie's Amsterdam on 27 October 1998, showing the model in a quite static pose, the present lot is characterized by a dynamic and slightly more daring composition. The flamboyant colour of the kimono and the emphasis on the model's eyes, playfully reflected in the wooden mirror, enhance the spontaneous nature of the painting.
Like many other late nineteenth century artists such as Whistler, Tissot, Monet, Alfred Stevens and Van Gogh, Breitner was inspired by the exotic motifs and aesthetics of Japanese art. Following the world exhibition of Londen in 1862 and Paris in respectively 1876, 1878 and 1889, a strong fascination for the empire of the sun and it's 'Japonaiserie', a term coined by Edmond de Goncourt, pervaded European art and literature. Breitner's studio sale in 1924 not surprisingly also comprised several japanese artefacts such as prints and a screen by Toyokuni. Unlike Van Gogh however, who can be regarded as one of the most influential Japonists of his time, Breitner didn't nurse a strong social involvement with Japanese culture or it's communal ideals.
Breitner was above all lured by the image of exocitism and luminosity of this far away country, offering him a welcome relief from his daily burdens. This form of escapism is clearly evident in a letter addressed to Mrs Van der Weele in which the artist describes a dream: "Uw costuum was zoo prachtig diep rood blauw zwart met exotische figuren daarin verweven en de wanden waren geel en roze, enfin het was een wonder van pracht en ik wou dat het mijn huis was en dat jelui nu bij mij thuis zaten te drinken net als ik toen bij jelui en dat mijn ogen weer heel waren en dat we ieder honderdduizend gulden in de week te verteren hadden, dan lieten we een mooi yacht bouwen en zeilden allemaal naar het land van den Mikado om daar eens te kijken" (A.B. Osterholt, Breitner en zijn foto's, Amsterdam 1974).
The prospective buyer is kindly requested to loan the present lot to the forthcoming exhibition dedicated to Breitner's Kimono girls in the Rijksmuseum Twenthe, Enschede. The exhibition, entitled Meisjes in Kimono: George Hendrik Breitner en de Japanse Schilderkunst rond 1900, will last from 9 September to 29 October 2000.