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Georg Hendrik Breitner (1857 - 1923)
A view on the building pit for the Grand Bazar de la 
Bourse on the Nieuwendijk in Amsterdam, ca 1902
Oil on canvas, 65,7 x 91,5 cm.

Provenance: private collection.
Photograph shows detail.

Our painting depicts the building pit for the new Maison de la Bourse in Amsterdam (now demolished) in 1902-1903. In 1886 Breitner moved to Amsterdam and became the main chronicler of modern street life in the city. The theme of the building pits was usually treated by photographers but Breitner, an avid photographer himself, introduced it into painting and depicted the substantial 19th century urban expansions of Amsterdam.
He painted the pit several times. In various versions Breitner worked out this theme in different ways.
The small Rijksmuseum study on panel (on loan to the Amsterdam Historic Museum) is quite similar to our painting. The most topographical version is in the Boijmans Museum in Rotterdam. A colorful cut-out of these is in the collection of the Kröller-Müller. Our picture shows the most artistic
conception, where the daylight has almost subsided and the area is reduced to impressionistic, almost abstract contours in brown and white.

History painter Charles Rochussen (1814-1894) advised George Hendrik Breitner to attend the academy in The Hague, which he did in 1876. Not impressed with the training methods there, which mainly involved copying plaster models, he was expelled for unruly behavior in 1880.

He made contacts with members of The Hague school of painters, such as Israels (q.v.), Willem Maris (1844-1910), Anton Mauve (1838-1888), and Hendrik Willem Mesdag (1831-1915), who painted plein-air landscapes in the tradition of the Barbizon painters, investigating the atmospheric qualities of the landscape. Mesdag asked Breitner in 1880 to assist him on his famous panorama of Scheveningen (Museum Panorama Mesdag, The Hague). Although these modern artists exposed him to many new influences, Breitner preferred to focus on human figures rather than pure landscape. In the spirit of naturalist authors such as Gustave Flaubert and Émile Zola, he wanted to be a "painter of the people." He also favored military painting, which he had been practicing since his youth. The merchant C. E. van Stolk, Breitner's early supporter and his father's employer, unsuccessfully urged the young painter to change his loose impressionist style in order to have a better chance of success.

In May 1884 the artist left for Paris and briefly entered the studio of the academic painter Fernand Cormon (1854-1924). Breitner complained about his own lack of technical skills and, probably because of financial problems, left Paris within half a year. In 1886 he moved to Amsterdam and eventually became the main chronicler of street life in the city. His reputation was established that same year when the state bought his painting Horse Artillery for the new Rijksmuseum.

He became one of the leading figures of Amsterdam's strongly developed avant-garde intellectual scene. A group of painters and writers called De Tachtigers (The Eighties Movement) used their publication De Nieuwe Gids (The New Guide) to voice their ideas against the establishment. In addition to his contemporary genre painting, Breitner often returned to the female nude; these works, however, met with some criticism because of the artist's realistic approach. Breitner photographed frequently and used the images for his paintings, both nudes and cityscapes. In 1901 he married his model Marie Jordan (1866-1948).

By the turn of the century Breitner was a famous artist in the Netherlands, as demonstrated by a highly successful retrospective exhibition at Arti et Amicitiae in Amsterdam (1901). That accomplishment also meant, however, that he now belonged to the cultural establishment while other artists, such as Piet Mondriaan (1872-1944), or new movements, such as cubism and expressionism, were waiting in the wings. Breitner traveled frequently in the last decades of his life, visiting Paris, London, and Berlin, among other cities, and continued to take photographs. In 1909 he went to the United States as a member of the jury for the Carnegie International Exhibition in Pittsburgh, where the painting now in the Cleveland Museum of Fine Art had been exhibited in 1904.