‘He loves movement raging movement, blowing hair, fluttering skirts, flying legs’, wrote the critic Gerard Brom of Isaac Israëls in 1927. This painting shows that dance already fascinated the artist around 1900.
One detail in another work immediately shows that it was not Israëls’ intention here to create the suggestion of an exotic location, for two women in European-style hats are watching the Ashanti dancers, either seated or standing.
Around 1900, when Israëls probably painted this work, De groote Ashantees karavanen (The Great Ashanti Caravan) toured the Netherlands, performing in Amsterdam, The Hague and Rotterdam. It is likely that these are the dancers in the painting.
Israëls was not only interested in the artistes, his attention was also drawn by the public. Various sketches by his hand are known of the public watching a show in the Carré Theatre in Amsterdam between 1887 and 1893. Two of these sketches show a well-dressed black woman with her equally well-dressed, teenaged son or daughter, mesmerised by a performance which possibly featured exotic people or animals.
Israëls paintings of Ashanti dancers,of which he produced at least three, are based on a range of sketches. One of the many sketchbooks in Dutch museums containes the studies for these paintings, in the book are all the figures in the painting depicted separately, with a couple of lines in two or three colours.
Alongside the dancers in the sketchbook there are also studies of drummers, both in action and at rest, as is here the case with these chatting figures, one of whom is smoking a pipe. The faces have been meticulously worked up.
The painting of Ashanti dancers was purchased in 1957 by the Belastingmuseum (Tax Museum) to complement its collection of Ashanti gold weights.
Esther Schreuder in: Black is beautiful, Rubens to Dumas (2008)
Research has been possible thanks to a contribution of de Mondriaan foundation, AFK and VSB fonds.
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Brom 1927; Wagner 1985, p. 32; Bergsma 1994, p. 42 (see Black is Beautiful, Rubens to Dumas)
Research has been made possible thanks to a contribution of de Mondriaan foundation, AFK and VSB fonds.