For the first time ever, the Rijksmuseum is bringing together all the versions of Girl in a Kimono by George Hendrik Breitner. The countless versions of a girl in a kimono, which is considered an icon of Japonism, emerged between 1893 and 1896. Young model Geesje Kwak posed for almost all of his paintings, being immortalised in the process. Based on new research, the exhibition displays the full series of 14 paintings for the first time, including a hitherto unknown 'Girl in a Red Kimono' from a private collection. Besides the paintings, there are also drawings, sketches and photographs used by the artist in preparation. The exhibition will run from 20 February to 22 May 2016 in the Philips Wing of the Rijksmuseum.
All of Breitner's versions together for the first time
From entries in his sketchbook and photos, we know that it was Geesje Kwak who posed for the painter between the ages of 16 and 18. Coming from a Zaandam family of bargees, Geesje Kwak moved to Amsterdam in 1880. Her young, innocent face and slender body contribute significantly to the appearance of delicate sensuality that characterises the entire series.
Geesje Kwak posed alternately in a red, a white and a blue Japanese kimono. From the time of his stay in Paris in 1884, where Japonism dominated the fashion scene, Breitner was fascinated by Japanese art. During that time, Japanese evenings were also held in the Netherlands and Japanese prints were exhibited. Breitner collected these woodcuts himself.
There have been exhibitions in the past devoted to this beloved theme of Breitner's, but the paintings of Girl in a Kimono have never been displayed all together. Displaying all the Girl in a Kimono works together, combined with the preliminary studies in the form of drawings, sketches and photographs, as well as Breitner's easel and paint box, gives the exhibition above all an impression of the way in which the painter went about his work in his studio on the Lauriergracht in Amsterdam. Assembling the entire series also offered an excellent opportunity to conduct technical research, during which surprising new insights were gained. These insights are extensively detailed in the exhibition and the accompanying publication.
In total there are 20 paintings on display, including 13 Girl in Kimono works and one nude. Furthermore, 15 drawings and 15 photographs will be displayed, plus Japanese prints. Moreover, there are two beautiful kimonos from the same period as the ones worn in the paintings.
George Hendrik Breitner
George Hendrik Breitner was born in Rotterdam in 1857. In 1876 he attended the academy in The Hague, before working for a year in Willem Maris' studio. In this early period he was influenced by the painters of The Hague School. Breitner deliberately chose his models from the lower classes: workers, maids and residents of poor districts. He saw himself as ‘the people's painter'. In 1886 he moved to Amsterdam, where, among other things, he captured city life in sketches, paintings and photographs. Sometimes he made different images of a single subject from different angles or in different weather conditions. On occasion, photographs served as a direct example for a particular painting, such as the girls in kimonos. Breitner was a contemporary of Isaac Israëls. Both artists belonged to the Amsterdam Impressionism movement.
Suzanne Veldink in cooperation with Nienke Woltman, Breitner: Girl in a Kimono, Rijksmuseum 2016
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City of Sin. Representing the Urban Underbelly in Nineteenth Century Art.
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