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George Hendrik Breitner (Dutch painter & photographer) 1857-1923

George Hendrik Breitner began his artistic career as a draughtsman and painter. He painted military subjects, horses and later on numerous townscapes. In 1886 he settled in Amsterdam and from then on he also took photographs, including portraits and scenes of everyday life in the city. Breitner used his photos as studies for his paintings; they were a means of recording his impressions and capturing the atmosphere, light and weather conditions. In 'Oudezijds Achterburgwal' Breitner was principally concerned with the rhythm and the reflection of the houses, which become vague in the distance. Breitner regarded his photos as studies for his own use and not as a form of art of interest to others. So he never showed them publicly. When he died in 1923 a clothes basket full of negatives and photographs was retrieved from his studio. Breitner's approach to printing was generally a rough and ready one. The edges of the prints are often not straight and sometimes fingerprints or drawing pins can be seen. The lack of sharpness is not, however, a technical shortcoming; this was the effect Breitner aimed at in order to depict a particular atmosphere. Breitner often photographed a subject a number of times, from different angles or in varying weather conditions. Thus he took several pictures of the Oudezijds Achterburgwal. One photo shows the canal looking in the opposite (northern) direction. Sometimes Breitner took the same place but with a different situation: with a woman and a cart on the quayside. He also drew the Oudezijds Achterburgwal in his sketchbook. This sketch most resembles the photo with the woman and the cart. It is not known whether the sketch is based on the photo or on reality, nor whether he painted this subject. * * * George Hendrik Breitner mainly became famous with his paintings of Amsterdam street life. He studied at various academies, including the Hague Academy, the Polytechnic in Delft, the State Academy of Fine Arts in Amsterdam and the Académie Cormon in Paris. In Paris, Breitner came into contact with impressionism. He called his work the opposite to that of Vincent van Gogh. Van Gogh made use of bright colours to express the contrasts in his own moods, while Breitner wanted to show pure, naked reality. Breitner travelled frequently, including a trip in 1909 to Philadelphia and New York.


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