Isaac Israels (1865-1934)
Raden Mas Jodjana signed 'Isaac Israels' (lower right) oil on canvas, 174x97 cm The renowned Dutch Impressionist Isaac Israels was often inspired by the people and culture of the former Dutch East Indies. As a young man in 1883 he attended the International Colonial and Export Exhibition in Amsterdam, where a genuine East Indies village had been built next to the main venue. A similar installation was constructed for the National Exhibition of Women´s Labour. This exhibition was organised by prominent women from The Hague in honour of the inauguration of Princess Wilhelmina in the summer of 1898.
Some fifteen years later, Isaac Israels met students from Java. These youngsters, many of noble descent, studied in Rotterdam or Leiden. They met at the Haagse Kunstkring, a society for artists and art lovers in The Hague, to recite poetry, practise dance and improve their skills in sculpting and painting. On 15 and 17 March 1916, two Charity Events for the Indies, took place. The aim of these events was to raise money for those affected by the many floods on the island Java towards the end of 1915. Javanese students are known to have performed on these two nights. Needless to say, Israels was in the audience, always looking to be inspired.
It was during this period that Israels met the Javanese dancer Raden Mas Jodjana, who began his studies in Rotterdam in 1914. Born in Yogyakarta in 1893, Jodjana was related to Yogya´s Royal Family both on his mother´s side and his father´s. Between 1916 and 1919, Israels created several paintings featuring Jodjana – as the focus of the work or as a beloved subject in the background of a self-portrait. There is no doubt the men were close friends. The same period saw the creation of portraits of the poet Noto Soeroto, Javanese dancers and gamelan musicians. Israels painted these portraits in his studio, which had been decorated with palm trees (from the nearby zoo) and batiks for the occasion. He borrowed the gamelan instruments from The Hague´s music museum Scheurleer.
The present painting can be seen in the background of a self-portrait from 1919 (see image). The self-portrait is part of the collection of the National Gallery in Singapore and confirms this painting was not made during Israels´ later trip to the Indies in 1921-1922. Jodjana´s portrait dates back to around 1916. A similar piece, in which Jodjana is once again depicted standing, but turned to the other side, was sold at auction in Hong Kong at the end of May 2019 for almost €400,000.
Jodjana was a popular model amongst painters as well as photographers. He was not only immortalised by his friend Israels, but also by the painters Max Fleischer and W.O.J. Nieuwenkamp and the sculptor Jan Altorf. Altorf modelled a characteristic bronze mask after him, while Nieuwenkamp used him as inspiration for multiple drawings and at least three oil paintings. One of these paintings, Jodjana as Vishnu, is part of the collection of the Pasifika Museum in Bali. Notably, Nieuwenkamp´s portraits of Jodjana are all based on photographs, unlike Israels´ many portraits, which were made to life.
In October 1921 Isaac Israels left for he Dutch East Indies. Because of his close friendship with Jodjana, Israels was introduced to the court of Surakarta and enabled to paint there. By the time he returned to the Netherlands, his creative well had been filled: his palette became much brighter.
Photos in 'A Book of Self Re-Education' (1981) by Raden Ayoe Jodjana shows her husband in the same dress as the present painting. The description reads´Raden Mas Jodjana in the dance "Hiranyakashipu" [The Evil King]´. However, it appears Jodjana, dressed as a wayang-wong dancer, was depicting the character Ghatotkacha, holding a ceremonial spear (tombak). The headdress and, in particular, the stylised feathers are key identifiers. Ghatotkacha is a figure from the Javanese Mahabharata epic. The son of Bhima, one of the Pandava brothers, has the ability to fly. Alongside Arjuna, he is one of the most beloved heroes of the wayang. Raden Mas Jodjana, portrayed masterfully by Isaac Israels, plays the part of the divine hero with his distinct chin and noble expression like no other.
Willemien de Vlieger-Moll and Gianni Orsini,
May 2019 Literature:
-A. Wagner, 'Isaac Israels', Venlo, 1985, ill. no. 129a, p. 107.
-Collection Dr. Wagener.
-Auction, Sotheby Mak van Waay, Amsterdam, 28 Oktober 1980, lot 216, as: 'Staande danser (Jodjana)'.
-Private collection, The Netherlands.
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