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Jan Toorop: 1858 - 1928

Jan Theodorus Toorop was born on December 20, 1858, in Purworedjo in Java, a background that was to mark his work. His father was part Javanese, his mother of British extraction. In 1869 he went to Holland, where he became a pupil of Tetar van Elven. From 1880 to 1885 he studied successively at the Academies of Amsterdam and Brussels and was influenced by the works of Jules Bastien-Lepage, Edouard Manet, and James Ensor. In 1885 he visited England with the Symbolist poet Emile Verhaeren and there discovered the work of William Blake and the Pre-Raphaelites. The following year he married a girl of English-Scottish birth, and lived partly in London, partly in Brussels, until he settled in The Hague in 1889.

In sympathy with every new trend in art, Toorop experimented first with Impressionism. Then the work of Vincent van Gogh and Paul Signac drew him toward Neo-Impressionism. Contact with Ensor and the Brussels Societe des XX, with Verhaeren and the writer Maurice Maeterlinck, brought him into the Symbolist orbit. By 1891 Toorop was himself a fully matured Symbolist and certainly the most significant artist in the movement in Holland, an allegiance that was finally confirmed in 1905 by his conversion to Roman Catholicism. In 1892 he produced a series of symbolic drawings with a linear, rhythmic emphasis. These include O Grave, Where is Thy Victory?. His drawings of 1893 are typical of Art Nouveau. That year and the next the newly founded English art periodical "The Studio" illustrated some of his work, which was in many ways similar to that of another of its contributors, Aubrey Beardsley. Toorop's drawing, The Three Brides, 1893, is a case in point. In 1893 he exhibited in Munich and in 1894 with Les XX.

His art reflected not only its English sources - William Morris, John Ruskin, late Pre-Raphaelitism - but also the interest in Eastern and exotic art current in Holland from the mid-1880's, when imitation batik printing had become popular. In addition to his paintings, drawings, and graphic work, Toorop made furniture designs, rather in the style of the Art Nouveau decorator Henri van de Velde. He died in The Hague on March 3, 1928.


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