Just as the Hague School artists left their studios in town to paint the surrounding countryside, so the artists of the next generation set off to explore the life of the city. Starting in the 1880s, young painters like George Hendrik Breitner, Isaac Israels and Willem Witsen made urban life the focus of their drawings and paintings. The Hague was no longer the Dutch art capital; Amsterdam was more important. The Gemeentemuseum Den Haag presents these ‘Tachtigers’ (artists of the 1880s) – or Dutch Impressionists, as they are sometimes called – in the first major exhibition of their work to be held at the museum for many years.
The upheaval in the art world coincided with a major change in Dutch society. From 1870, the population of the cities expanded faster than that of rural areas. Amsterdam, The Hague and Rotterdam all doubled in size. Migration to the cities created a housing crisis that led to the development of new suburbs around the old town centres.
In the late nineteenth century, industrialisation and increasing affluence began to make luxury products and public entertainment available to the masses. Artists recorded the new forms of entertainment arriving from France. They showed the city in all its beauty and ugliness. They painted street parties and low-life bars, but also smart fashion houses, restaurants and theatres. Each had his own individual view of urban life, reflecting the many different facets of the modern city, where luxury and amusement contrasted sharply with the poverty in which much of the population still lived.
Breitner depicted ladies on leisurely shopping trips, but also toiling labourers. Israels painted chic fashion shows and working-class cafés. Jacobus van Looy recorded jubilant public holiday crowds. They were all attracted by the hustle and bustle of the city, while other artists – like the sensitive Willem Witsen and Eduard Karsen – specialized in more tranquil townscapes. Taken together, their paintings convey a vibrant impression of nineteenth-century life in the three major Dutch cities, with trams on the busy Rokin, the first electrical street lighting, alluring window displays, and non-stop building work.
Tumult in the City. Dutch artists of the 1880s is a sequel to the popular 2015 exhibition Beautiful Holland. Out and about with the Hague School, which showed how Hague School painters recorded changes occurring in the rural landscape. The new exhibition focuses on how the next generation of artists set out to capture the new urban life of their day. It will encompass over 100 paintings and drawings, as well as photographs, documentary materials and a unique set of Isaac Israels’ sketchbooks. Working in partnership with the Literatuurmuseum (museum of the Dutch literary heritage), the Gemeentemuseum will also present rare first editions of work by contemporary poets like Willem Kloos, Albert Verwey and Herman Gorter.
The exhibition will include a multitude of vital loans from institutions such as the Rijksmuseum Amsterdam, Centraal Museum Utrecht, Dordrechts Museum, Amsterdam Museum, Groninger Museum, Teylers Museum, Museum Gouda and from numerous private collections. In addition, the Royal Museum of Fine Arts in Antwerp is lending an outstanding collection of works by Breitner, and Leiden University Libraries and the Hague Municipal Archives are both providing assistance.
Poems inspired by various works in the exhibition and composed by Mischa Andriessen – the Gemeentemuseum Den Haag’s new writer in residence – will also be on display.
The exhibition will be accompanied by a lavishly illustrated Dutch-language catalogue by WBOOKS, 224 pages, €24.95, with the support of the Foundation Gifted Art.