Woman on the Rokin


George Hendrik Breitner
Rotterdam 1857 – Amsterdam 1923
oil on canvas
135 x 185 x 13 cm
Inventory number 2020

The end of the 19th century saw the rise of the hand-held camera. For the first time ever, photographers were able to shoot several images in succession and capture movement on film. The Dutch Impressionist painter George Hendrik Breitner was instantly captivated by the possibilities this opened up. In addition to drawings and sketches, he began to use photographs as a memory aid. He could now take snapshots and use the images later to work out his paintings. Around 1895, Breitner produced a number of paintings representing scenes in and around Rokin, a street in Amsterdam, including this canvas. It creates the illusion of a spontaneous snapshot of a random moment, but the truth is that Breitner put a lot of time and effort into working out his paintings in his studio. The sense of randomness and spontaneity is created by the rough brushwork. Breitner was not interested in detail, but rather in the overall impression of the image. Nonetheless, the sketchy row of houses in the background, which still exists today, is easily recognisable.


Breitner borrowed quite a few photographic effects in this painting. The vagueness of the women’s faces is reminiscent of moving people in photographs. And the unusual framing of the models gives the composition the feel of a snapshot.

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