Breitner: Spleten in de stad / Cracks in the City
If you draw a narrow street in perspective in portrait, you get four triangles: one on the left and one on right with the houses receding toward the horizon, the street at the bottom and a ragged V-shaped area at the top. When you draw another street and then another, the V-shaped area (the sky part) you are left with is different each time depending on the jagged outline of the rooftops, like the space between the letters of an alphabet. George Hendrik Breitner (1857-1923) drew, painted and photographed these alleyways. Or should I say photographed, drew and painted them, or even painted, photographed and drew them?
In Breitner’s time, photography did not have the status it has today. As an art-historian you can go on debating the order in which the painter-photographer used these media, but the best way to find out it is to look through Breitner’s eyes. You can then tell from his photographs that he worked with the same abandon as he painted and drew: with a great longing, with an intense yearning to discover something new.
Hundreds of his sketchbooks have been made available to the public and digitalised; all of the nitrate and glass negatives that have been attributed to him to date – some 3,000 – can likewise be viewed on the electronic highway. His photographic prints, many of them showing the four white unexposed spots from the drawing pins he used to pin the photographic paper to the wall during exposure, are held by several institutions. Simply by casting your eye over this vast amount of material, it immediately comes alive as if the maker was far from ready to breathe his last breath back in 1923.