JOHANNES THEODORUS TOOROP
(Purworejo 1858 - 1928 The Hague)
Meisjeskopje (Head of a Girl)
Signed and dated upper right JTToorop/ 1915
Pencil on paper
16 x 12 cm (6 ¼ x 4 3/4 inches)
Born on the island of Java in the Dutch East Indies, Jan Toorop displayed a great talent for art and music early in his life. As a young boy he developed an interest in drawing, a practice he would develop into some of the greatest works of his career. At the age of thirteen, Toorop’s parents sent him to the Netherlands, where he was to be trained as a colonial administrator, a position his father occupied for the Dutch government. After arriving in Holland, Toorop convinced his family that such a job was not conducive to his skill set, and so instead the young artist began to study painting in Delft and Amsterdam. He later moved to Brussels, where in 1884 he was elected as one of the first Dutch members of Les Vingt, or Les XX, the pioneering Belgian avant-garde artists’ association. The founding members of the group included James Ensor (1860-1949) and Fernand Khnopff (1858-1921), two artists that would strongly influence Toorop’s ever-evolving style. While exhibiting with Les XX Toorop experimented with his technique extensively, immersing himself in Realism, Pointillism and other Neo-Impressionist approaches, and most importantly mystical Symbolism. Around 1890 he became part of the circle of Joséphin Péladan (1858-1918), who featured not one, but two of Toorop’s works in his inaugural exhibition of the 1892 Salon de la Rose + Croix in Paris. Toorop did not remain in Peladan’s orbit for long, moving on to explore the emerging movement of Dutch Art Nouveau, or Nieuwe Kunst, inspired by the organic forms and patterns found in nature. He did, however, continue to explore religious imagery, a popular subject of Rosicrucianism, likely inspired by his developing relationship with Roman Catholicism.
By the time Toorop left Belgium to return to the Netherlands he had developed a unique artistic voice, melding the many vocabularies he had accumulated over time. He also became interested in printmaking, producing around fifty drypoint etchings between 1894 and 1908. He used zinc plates as opposed to copper, creating a graphite-like line that mimicked the effects of drawing. A leading artist of the International Art Nouveau movement, the artist went on to design countless decorative objects including stained glass windows, books, calendars, posters and stamps. Toorop’s dynamic oeuvre is representational of the boldly experimental and diverse aesthetic movements that emerged at the turn of the 20th century.
The current intimate portrait study proves Jan Toorop never lost interest in engaging with diverse techniques. While Head of a Girl is rendered in a stylized, almost geometric manner, in 1915 Toorop was simultaneously producing extremely life-like, Realist portraits. Head of a Girl is reminiscent of the angular features of the artist’ daughter, Charley Toorop (1891-1955), and a comparable chalk drawing on paper belongs to the collection of the Kröller-Müller Museum in Otterlo (Figure 1). Several artists of the Art Nouveau are well-represented in the collection of Helene Kröller-Müller (1869-1939), in part because her art advisor H.P. Bremmer (1871-1956) shared a personal friendship with Toorop. Bremmer’s father managed a hotel in Leiden where the two had met as young man, and Toorop later introduced Bremmer to the artists of Les XX.