1858. Johannes Toorop, a 9 year old Javanese boy is sent by his parents to a school in Holland. 7,000 miles away. Maybe that’s why his work was so extraordinarily eclectic.
He was born, the third of five children, 150 years ago in Purworejo, a place half way along the long thin island of Java in the Dutch East Indies. His parents, Christoffel and Maria, named him Johannes Theodorus Toorop. The Toroop family lived on the island of Bangka near Sumartra until he was nine years old. That was when the Toroops put their child on a boat for the Netherlands. 7,000 miles away. To further his studies they said. They also said the family would follow. Johannes never saw his parents again. He did however, keep up a postal relationship with them and it’s said they supported him financially. One would hope so.
So. A young Javanese boy, alone in Holland. Unsurprisingly the schooling he sailed so very far for didn’t go very well at first. Johannes however, as we now know, had a precocious talent when it came to drawing and luckily this talent was spotted by a Mr. Ahn, an art collector from The Hague.
The Javanese boy must have been extremely talented. Mr. Ahn steered Johannes toward studying art seriously. He would attend the National Academy in Amsterdam. The legendary Rijksakademie.
Perhaps this self determination was logical, fired by abandonment. Maybe his childhood isolation fuelled his imagination too. He certainly learnt how to dream. Johannes heartbreakingly sad, strange start in life may go some way to explaining his extraordinarily eclectic output as an artist. Something must be responsible.
Johannes Theodorus Toorop (1858 – 1928), ‘Jan’ to his artist friends of which, to judge by the amount of portraits they drew of him, he had many. Or perhaps the exotic Javanese man in Holland with the coffee coloured skin and the pointed goatee was just a great subject to draw. Either way, Jan Troop made significant contributions to a staggering list of art movements. He swept through them all, starting with the Amsterdam Impressionism movement ; he was strongly influenced by them. For a while. He moved on, he changed style. A chameleon artist; Symbolism, Art Nouveau, even Pointillism; and everything he did had an otherness, an exoticness. Not quite of this place. Not quite local, not quite foreign. That was him. A hybrid artistic shapeshifter.
After leaving the Rijksakademie, from 1882 to 1886 he lived in Brussels where he joined Les XX (Les Vingts), a group of artists centred on James Ensor. Toorop worked in various styles during these years. Realism, Impressionism Neo-Impressionism and Post-Impressionism. One thing Jan Troop loved to do was draw people. Throughout his life Toorop produced portraits, in sketch format as and as paintings. Of course these vary wildly in style from highly realistic to impressionistic.
In 1886, Jan the Javanese-Dutch painter married a British woman named Annie Hall. He was now dividing his time between The Hague, England and Brussels. Around 1890 he discovered the seaside town of Katwi
After his marriage to Annie Hall, a British woman, in 1886, Toorop alternated his time between The Hague, England and Brussels and, after 1890, he added the Dutch seaside town of Katwijk aan Zee, about 20 km up the coat from The Hague. Perhaps, by now tired of all those art styles, Toroop began now to develop a unique one of his own. A unique Javanese favoured Symbolist style that incorporated dynamic, unpredictable lines based on motifs form his birthplace, highly stylised willowy figures, and curvilinear designs.
In 1899, Merriam invited the 25 year old Fuertes to join the Harriman Expedition to Alaska. Fuertes jumped at the chance, “You know that I was born with the itching foot,” he wrote a friend, “and the sight of a map, or even a time-table is enough to stir me all up inside.”
Like his hero Audubon from the local library book, Fuertes painted using dead bird specimens as reference. On the expedition he went to great lengths to spot as many types of bird as he could, and kill them. He sketched his dead birds constantly. His breath steaming in the Alaskan air, he stalked through woods and across glaciers to catch sight of rare species. He made quick sketches of birds on the wing, took copious notes and retained memories of the sounds their calls. Louis knew their voices. He shot and skinned hundreds of birds. He loved Alaska,didn’t want the expedition to end and wished he could stay on longer.
Toward the end of the 19th century, Toorop lived for 20 years in a small house near the market in Domburg, another seaside town in Zeeland. He worked with a group of fellow artists, including Marinus Zwart and the legendary Piet Mondrian. Now the abandoned boy was a man at the centre of a tight knit group of artists. There was no collaboration or common style among them. What they all had in common was the inspiration they received from “the Zeeland Light”, the dunes, the forests, beaches and the character of the Zeeland people.
Troop kept switching. His own symbolism, a portrait of his friend Marie Jeannette de Lange in pointillism style. Then he tool up Art Nouveau which suited him & his style. Art Nouveau uses similar Flowing linework which would have felt familiar and natural to him. Now his lines previously used to evoke fantastical symbolism were used for decorative purposes, without any obvious symbolic meaning. In 1905, he converted to Catholicism and began producing religious works. He also created book illustrations, posters, and stained glass designs.
Toorop died on 3 March 1928 in The Hague. His daughter, Charley Toroop 1(891–1955) became an excellent painter, as did his grandson, Edgar Fernhout.