Born in Groningen, Jozef Israels studied in Amsterdam with Kruseman and in Paris with Picot, H. Vernet, and Delaroche. In his day considered the greatest Dutch artist of the century (a position eclipsed today by van Gogh), he was the leader of the so-called Hague School. Fishermen and peasants provided his main subject matter. In his most admired period (ca. 1870-1890), he rendered simple scenes from daily life with psychological insight - soft light is concentrated on a few figures while the background is in tones of grey. His power to convey character and emotion through the painting of hands was particularly praised. "The hearth" is an etching from around this period and depicts an old peasant warming herself by the fire of the hearth. Typically, her withered hands, extended toward the fire, absorbing and conveying its warmth, and highlighted by the glow of the hearth, are the focal point of the picture.

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