See the street photography that helped put social realism into George Hendrik Breitner’s Amsterdam streets.

For the Dutch painter and photographer George Hendrik Breitner (1857 – 1923), his interest in photography began as a practicacal means to capture street life in all its spontaneous authenticity a for use as reference in painting the city. Preserving the fleeting atmospherics of the weather was something he was after too. Inclement, atmospheric weather especially was something he was aiming to capture. Brietner is noted especially for his realistic, renderings of the city streets and harbours. Photography enhanced and accentuated that reality. If you ask ten photographers to shoot the same street, the results will be ten sets of images of ten different streets. There are so many factors involved that everyone ca’t help but have a personal style and of course Brietner was no different. Once you know this, and have seen particular way he chooses his camera angles, his compositions, the instinctive and particular way he chooses to crop moving passers by, to shoot from low etc., etc. – it is truly difficult not to recognise, see (and feel) his quite distinctive photographic sesnsibilities in his paintings.

Breitner’s view of himself as ‘le peintre du peuple’ (the people’s painter) meant that his street photography was all about everyday Amsterdam & Amsterdammers. Impressionism (& social realism) owes just a little of its revolutionary immediacy to the magic of the camera.

A huge part of brietner’s legacy is that he introduced radical new levels of social realism into the Netherlands. Of course, brietner’s camera wasnt his only tool he clearly had an armoury. One only needs to glance through his sketchbooks to see his eye and his hand lacked nothing. Photography simply helped.

The Singel Bridge at the Paleisstraat in Amsterdam, George Hendrik Breitner, 1898. Oil on canvas.

Several photographic reference studies are known for Breitner’s Singelbrug near the Paleisstraat in Amsterdam, ca. 1897 (above). It’s an image that could easily (if you squint at it quickly through your eyelashes) have been snapped on an iphone in Amsterdam yesterday.

Enough about paintings. Brietner had an incredible eye and he walked around Amsterdam in the late 1800s with a camera and took a some amazing pictures for us.

Snow scene over the Damrak in Amsterdam, George Hendrik Breitner, c. 1890 – c. 1910.
Government warehouses on Brouwersgracht in Amsterdam, George Hendrik Breitner, c. 1890 – c. 1910.
Visitors at a Horse Market, George Hendrik Breitner, c. 1890 – c. 1910.
View through the Omvalspoort in Haarlem, George Hendrik Breitner, c. 1890 – c. 1910.
Portrait of a Woman Walking on the Prinsengracht in Amsterdam, George Hendrik Breitner, c. 1890 – c. 1910.
Group portrait of workers at Van Diemenstraat in Amsterdam, George Hendrik Breitner, c. 1890 – c. 1910.
View of the Singel in Amsterdam on a Rainy Day, George Hendrik Breitner (attributed to workshop of), c. 1890 – c. 1910.
Construction workers in and on a construction site on the Nieuwendijk in Amsterdam,
George Hendrik Breitner, c. 1890 – c. 1910.
View of the Looiersgracht in Amsterdam, George Hendrik Breitner, c. 1890 – c. 1910.
Business in Houtkopersdwarsstraat and Jodenbreestraat in Amsterdam, George Hendrik Breitner, c. 1890 – c. 1910.
Corner of the Herengracht and the Gasthuismolensteeg, George Hendrik Breitner, 1890 – 1900.
Street view at the Lindengracht crossing Lijnbaansgracht in Amsterdam, George Hendrik Breitner, c. 1890 – c. 1910.
Street View in Rotterdam, George Hendrik Breitner, c. 1890 – c. 1910.
View of the Leidseplein in Amsterdam with carriage traffic on a winter day, George Hendrik Breitner, 1890 – 1910.
Two Women in the Snow, George Hendrik Breitner, c. 1890 – c. 1910.
Sailing ships in the Houthaven in Amsterdam, George Hendrik Breitner, c. 1890 – c. 1910.
View of the Leidseplein in Amsterdam with carriage traffic on a winter day, George Hendrik Breitner, 1890 – 1910.

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