CODART, Dutch and Flemish art in museums worldwide

Breitners Amsterdam

Breitner's Amsterdam Exhibition: 9 April - 5 September 2004

Museum press release

The exhibition Breitner’s Amsterdam will open this spring in the Amsterdam Historical Museum with both photos and paintings by George Hendrik Breitner (1857-1923), the painter of the city of Amsterdam. The special content and arrangement of the exhibition provide an impressive picture of Amsterdam around 1900. Breitner’s Amsterdam introduces visitors to the history of the city. Devotees of the city, its residents and visitors will recognize the Amsterdam of yesteryear in the well-known places depicted in the photos and paintings.

Breitner’s Amsterdam, recognizing the past

Breitner’s fascination with the city can be seen in the paintings and photos in the exhibition. Visitors are taken back in time and become acquainted with the Amsterdam of around 1900. They experience the unrest and bustle of city life through Breitner’s eyes.

Breitner’s work is mainly centred on well-known spots in the city: Dam Square, Rokin, Kalverstraat, Brouwersgracht, Lauriergracht and the Teertuinen (the area where the tar sellers worked). But building and demolition work and the people themselves are featured too. Street furnishings, film clips and the sound of people on the street, of horse-drawn carts and of the trams shown in the paintings all add to these images. Contemporary photos of places where Breitner observed and recorded his Amsterdam world are also included in the exhibition to make it easier to recognize the scenes. In one of the smaller exhibition rooms where photos of the artist, and studies and sketches by him are displayed, you can actually imagine you’re in Breitner’s studio.

George Hendrik Breitner (1857-1923)

The Amsterdam of Breitner was a city brimming with social and cultural change. He came into contact with a circle of like-minded people – young writers and painters. In Amsterdam he discovered a medium that was new to him, a medium he could use to express what he saw: photography. At first, he used photos to help with his paintings but eventually photos and paintings were created simultaneously, or the one preceding the other. Together they form Breitner’s complete oeuvre.

Breitner and Amsterdam

The commotion and change in the city of Amsterdam fascinated Breitner. In the mid-nineteenth century the city numbered 224,000 inhabitants, whereas forty years later when Breitner came to live in Amsterdam, it was home to more than double that number. Amsterdam bristled with activity. New residential areas were built on the edge of the city and old buildings in the city centre were demolished to make way for large prestigious buildings. It was in that Amsterdam – that centre of dynamic flux and change sparked by economic progress, of explosive urban expansion and cultural changes – that Breitner wanted to be. In Amsterdam he sought the unique combination of the picturesque old city and the invigorating dynamics of the new.


The richly illustrated publication Breitners Amsterdam by Kees Keijer (Thoth publishers) has been published to coincide with the exhibition.

ISBN 90 68683551