In 1886 Toorop married a young English woman by the name of Annie Hall. (I have no idea if there is a connection with the Woody Allen film.) In this painting of his bride we find her reading at the breakfast table. Toorop seems more interested in the effect of white than in giving a careful rendering of her facial features. At the time he was living in Brussels. He joined Les XX (the Twenty) and was very much under the influence of James Ensor. I think you can see the James Whistler influence too.
|Woman in White (Annie Hall): 1886|
A decade and a half later we can see how his style has developed. For instance in his beautiful portrait of the feminist Jeanette de Lange, we see how he has adapted Surat's pointillist technique.
|Potrait of Mrs. M.J. de Lange: 1900|
|O Grave: 1892|
The following year (1893) he produced what some regard as his masterpiece, "The Three Brides" with its coiling, flat, serpentine composition and imagery that echoes Javanese art, especially batik.
|The Three Brides: 1893|
And here is another of his drawings, from the same year, an illustration for a book cover done in typical art nouveau style. The Japanese influence on the swirling lines of art nouveau has often been remarked upon, but in this work of Toorop one would be correct to pick up on an Indoensian influence, especially those lines of smoke that float upward like the shadows of Wayang Kulit.
|Het Boek van Verbeelding: 1893|
In 1894 Toorop produced what became the most famous work of Dutch Art Nouveau. Delftsche Slaolie was a poster for a salad dressing:
Again, the faces of the women look oriental. The flowing hair and the cloth of the dresses has something batik. The hand gestures of the woman on the right reminds me of Sita, in a Balinese rendition of the great Hindu epic, The Ramayana.
And here is a photo of Jan Toorop, taken in 1892:
|Jan Toorop: 1892|
He is no blond or redheaded Dutchman. Toorop was born on Java, on what was then the Dutch East Indies in 1858. Neither of his parents, nor his grandparents had ever visited the European mother country. Although they were classified as European, and had Dutch citizenship, they had been in the East Indies for over a century. Toorop was an "Indo" or a Dutch European with some Indonesian blood. He did not set foot in Europe until he was aged 14. During his youth he never paid much attention to his own background, but as his "exotic" looks began to work a mesmersing influence on some of his admirers, particularly some female followers, he invented an imaginative family background, including a Javanese princess as a mother. Toorop's mother was certainly not a Javanese princess. But there is little doubt that his family did have Javanese ancestors, and perhaps Chinese. Little research has been done on Toorop's Javanese roots. Art historian Robert Sibelhoff alone has written an account of Toorop's childhood. He suggests: "The claim to a princess for a mother and to the arms of knighthood seem to derive from (a) lively imagination. Thus one notices in Toorop a changed attitude toward his Origins between the mid-1880's and the mid-1899's. By the end of this time, the dual heritage is seen as partly responsible for the merging of the European and Asiatic visions in his art." Furthermore, Sibelhoff quotes Jan Toorop himself, reminiscing: "The East Indies have meant very much to me. The Indies cannot be left out (weggedacht) of the beautiful, half-Chinese environment on Banka and the Oriental nature there in the Indies brought me in contact with beauty for the first time. The dresses which work on your imagination, the beautiful materials, the mask-plays in the Chinese Kampongs ... although I, of course, did not understand anything of it, for it all was in a kind of Chinese, nevertheless it made an enormous impression on me, even as a child".
Art in general is a neglected area within the historiography of European colonialism. Likewise, most histories of western art give little or no attention to the contributions of Asian artists, or the Asian roots of some European artists. An example of this would be the Javanese roots of Jan Toorop's work.
|Jan Toorop in his studio: 1911|