There’s no place like home – Dutch Domesticity around 1900

There’s no place like home

Dutch Domesticity around 1900

Exposition at the Portrait Painting Gallery, Via Borgo 28, 55051 Barga, Italia.

Start from 8th April 2023 until the 1st August 2023

From 8th April onwards the Portrait Painting Gallery in Barga, Tuscany, welcomes you with a special exposition titled 'There’s no place like home - Dutch Domesticity around 1900'. Eight impressive photogravures of the Dutch artist Jozef Israëls and seven selected works by Ferdinand Schmutzer will be the core of this exposition, which gives you a glimpse of daily scenes in the houses of families in Volendam and elsewhere in the Netherlands, more than hundred years ago. One of the art styles in fashion was 'Realism'. Realist paintings depicted people of all classes in situations that arose in ordinary life, and often reflected the changes brought by the Industrial revolution. Realism is widely regarded as the movement created by the push to incorporate modern life and art together. The popularity of such realistic works grew with the introduction of photography. This new technique created a desire for people to produce representations which look objectively real.

Realism was an artistic movement that emerged in France in the 1840s, around the 1848 Revolution, as a reaction to romanticism and history painting. It was characterised by subjects painted from everyday life in a naturalistic manner and therefore rejected romanticism, which had dominated French literature and art since the early 19th century. Realism art is also used to describe artworks painted in a realistic, almost photographic way.

The Dutch Millet

Jozef Israëls (27 January 1824 – 12 August 1911) was a Dutch painter, best known as a painter of scenes of peasant life. He was a leading member of the group of landscape painters referred to as the ‘Hague School’. During his lifetime, Israëls was the most respected Dutch artist of the second half of the nineteenth century, earning the nickname ‘the Dutch Millet’.

When in 1904 Jozef Israëls celebrated his 80 birthday, he received an exclusive portfolio of 50 selected works, presented as high quality photogravures, printed by Meissenbach & Riffarth, Berlin. Paper was produced especially for this publication and watermarked  as "Jozef Israëls/ Uitgave van Gebrs. E & M Cohen/ Van Gelder Zonen". Eight selected works from this original portfolio willl be on view at this exposition. Other works to be seen on this exhibition are seven etchings, most of them signed by hand, by the Austrian artist Ferdinand Schmutzer.

Jozef Israëls was born in Groningen, of Jewish parents. His father, Hartog Abraham Israëls, intended for him to be a businessman, and it was only after a determined struggle that he was allowed to embark on an artistic career. He studied initially from 1835 to 1842 at the Minerva Academy in his home town Groningen.

He continued his studies subsequently in Amsterdam, studying at the Royal Academy for Fine Arts in Amsterdam. From September 1845 until May 1847 he was in Paris, working in the history painter Picot's studio and taking classes at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts under James Pradier, Horace Vernet and Paul Delaroche. He returned to Amsterdam in September 1845 where he resumed his studies at the Academy until May 1847. Israëls remained in Amsterdam until 1870, when he moved to The Hague and became a leading member of the Hague School of landscape painters.

Despite his training, Israëls did not devote his career to painting historical scenes. While recuperating from an illness at the Dutch fishing village of Zandvoort, he was appalled by the tragic lot of the fishermen and their families. His sober, restrained paintings depicting life in the fishing village earned him international fame. Critics compared his impasto brushwork, his warm colours and his use of chiaroscuro with the work of Rembrandt. Israëls taught numerous pupils, among them his son Isaac.

In later years his paintings were influenced by the works of Rembrandt, generally treated in broad masses of light and shade, which give prominence to the principal subject without any neglect of detail.


The term realism was coined by the French novelist Champfleury in the 1840s and in art was exemplified in the work of his friend the painter Gustav Courbet. In practice realist subject matter meant scenes of peasant and working class life, the life of the city streets, cafes and popular entertainments, and an increasing frankness in the treatment of the body and sexual subjects. Such subject matter combined with the new naturalism of treatment caused shock among the predominantly upper and middle class audiences for art.


The French Realist movement had stylistic and ideological equivalents in all other Western countries, developing somewhat later. The Realist movement in France was characterized by a spirit of rebellion against powerful official support for history painting. In countries where institutional support of history painting was less dominant, like The Netherlands, the transition from existing traditions of genre painting to Realism presented no such schism. In Italy the artists of the Macchiaioli group painted realist scenes of rural and urban life. The works of The Hague School in The Netherlands was heavily influenced by the realist painters of the French Barbizon School. The style and subject of painters like Jozef Israëls and Anton Mauve, has strongly influenced the early works of Vincent van Gogh.

Before Vincent painted The Potato Eaters, Israëls had already treated the same subject in his A Peasant Family at the Table. Judging from a comment in a letter to his brother Theo 11 March 1882, Vincent had seen this (or at least a variation of it) and had been inspired to produce his own version of it.

A master excelling in the use of light and shadow

Ferdinand Schmutzer  (21 May 1870 – 26 October 1928) was an Austrian photographer and engraver. Originally a famous Viennese etcher and engraver, his photography work was discovered under a Viennese rooftop in 2001. It had never been published. Like a lot of painters of that era, Ferdinand Schmutzer also used photographs as preliminary studies for his etchings. Almost all the discovered portrait photos prove Schmutzer to be a photographer of great talent who is a master excelling in the use of light and shadow.

Schmutzer exhibited his works internationally and received several prizes and awards. In 1901 he received a small gold medal at the Great Berlin Art Exhibition and in 1905 a large one. A special innovation was the use of large formats etchings, which were unknown in the etching technique until then.

The artist made a series of portraits of important people in Viennese high society, art and culture as well as from politics and business. He also counted the nobility and the emperor amongst the clientele who commissioned his work.  One of the best portraits by Schmutzer is the picture of Albert Einstein. In this work the artist was able to transfer the naturalness and cheerful composure of the great physicist to the photographic image.

The first visit to Volendam

Ferdinand Schmutzer came from a Viennese family of artists. He studied at the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna, initially sculpture and then painting. However he soon turned to etching which he was introduced to by his teacher at the Academy, William Unger. A state scholarship (Prix de Rome) allowed him a two-year stay in Holland (1894–1896). He visited Volendam for the first time, a picturesque fishing village north of Amsterdam. He brought his photo camera and took many shots on glass plates. Schmutzer's photos are impressions of the Botters (type of local fishing boats) in the harbour, scenes from everyday life such as women making the bed, sewing or reading. The photos also show his special interest in the traditional costumes of the people of Volendam.

After his first visit to Volendam, he stayed at Hotel Spaander and became friends with Leendert Spaander, the proprietor. Until 1926 Schmutzer returned many times to Volendam and stayed in touch with Leendert and his family.

In 1901 Schmutzer becomes a member of the Vienna Secession, an association of visual artists (Vereinigung bildender Künstler Österreichs), founded in 1897 by Gustav Klimt, Koloman Moser, Josef Hoffmann, Joseph Maria Olbrich, Otto Wagner and other artists. It was a split (= secession) from the Wiener Künstlerhaus, whose traditionalism was condemned.

In 1914 Schmutzer is appointed president of the Vienna Secession. In this period of the First World War, travel was impossible. Based on his sketches and photos, Ferdinand makes the etchings ‘Volendammer woman with white apron’ in 1916, ‘Neeltje’ in 1919, followed by one of his most famous Dutch etchings “Volendammer barber shop” in 1920.

In 1922 Schmutzer was honorably appointed rector of the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna. Holland continues to call and in 1926 he makes his last trip to the north and returns to his beloved Volendam and takes up residence in Hotel Spaander as usual.

Today the etchings of Ferdinand Schmutzer are housed in the permanent collections of major public museums in Dusseldorf, Berlin and Vienna. His etchings won him Gold Medals at both the Dresden and Vienna Expositions.