Grensoverschrijdende inspiratie


6.3 Jozef Israëls

Desiring a change of scenery after the death of his wife Aleida in 1894, Jozef Israëls travelled to Spain with his son Isaac and the writer Frans Erens. Thanks to Erens, who brought along books such as Pierre Corneille’s Le Cid and plays by Pedro Calderón de la Barca and Félix Lope de Vega, they had a thorough literary grounding for their trip, and Israëls's book Spanje, een reisverhaal (‘Spain: a traveller’s tale’), published in 1899, contains frequent references to characters and incidents from Spanish tales. For Israëls, the Prado was the paramount reason for visiting Spain, and he passed a sleepless night prior to his first visit: ‘The great figure of Velasquez de Silva, who was to be exhibited to us in the Museo del Prado, had already kept us from our sleep for many hours.’1 After visiting the museum, he still spoke of Velázquez's work in glowing terms. Nevertheless, the seventy-year-old Israëls seems to have been less susceptible than the young Van Looy to the influence of the art he saw. He made only one painting in response to his travels, and it was inspired not by anything in Spain but by his excursion to Tangiers. Nor did his work show any direct Spanish influence after his return to the Netherlands.

Israëls found not only the Prado enticing, but also the Oriental character of the country and its beautiful women. In his book, he described Spanish women with flowers in their black hair. Yet the women in his drawings seem fairly modestly dressed and not particularly exotic. In a drawing of a woman with a violin, the dress has no pattern whatsoever and her knitted shawl is draped unflatteringly over her shoulders as if she were a Dutch fisherman’s wife [10]. Israëls explicitly stated, a number of times, that Spain had fallen short of his high expectations of a foreign culture: ‘I had hoped for black knights on horseback... or at least a small procession of white monks with torches or some such thing. But old Toledo today did nothing but rouse my usual sensibilities’. 2

Like Van Looy, Israëls and his son made sketches in sketchbooks.3 Israëls later used these sketches as the basis for a series of chalk drawings, which in turn served as models for the illustrations in his book. Israëls's drawing of a monk is a fine example of the expressive power of some of these works [11]. The monk’s robe is shown in realistic perspective, and his deliberately obscured facial expression and slightly bowed head suggest a certain humility. Strikingly, the subjects that Israëls captured most effectively were not exotic, but familiar to him.

Jozef Israëls
Spanish woman with a small plucked instrument, 1899
paper, lithography (technique) ? x ? mm
Whereabouts unknown

Jozef Israëls
Portrait of a Spanish monk, 1899
paper, lithography (technique) ? x ? mm
Whereabouts unknown


1 ‘De groote figuur van Velasquez de Silva, die ons in het Museo del Prado zou worden vertoond, had ons reeds lang uit den slaap gehouden.’ J. Israëls, Spanje, een reisverhaal, ‘s-Gravenhage 1899, p. 40.

2 ‘Ik had gehoopt op zwarte ruiters te paard […] of tenminste een kleine optocht van witte monniken met toortsen of zoo iets. Maar het oude Toledo deed heden niets dan mij in mijne gewone gevoeligheden tasten’. Israëls 1899 (note 7), p. 65.

3 There is one known book of sketches by Isaac Israels that includes some made in Spain. It can be found in the Erens archive in Nijmegen. J.F. Heijbroek & J. Voeten, Isaac Israels in Amsterdam, Amsterdam 2012, pp. 42, 163.

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