Wednesday, July 5, 2017


It never ceases to amaze me how many interesting Catholic artists of the past there are that I have never heard of who were famous in their time. One such is JOHANNES (JAN) TOOROP, who  was born  in 1858 in Purworejo on the island ofJava in the Dutch East Indies (present-day Indonesia).  His father was Christoffel Theodorus Toorop, a civil servant, and his mother was Maria Magdalena Cooke.  He was the third of five children and lived on the island of Bangka near Sumatra until he was nine years old. He was then sent to school in Batavia on Java.

In 1869 he left Indonesia for the Netherlands, where he studied in Delft and Amsterdam. In 1880 he became a student at the Rijksakademie in Amsterdam. From 1882 to 1886 he lived in Brussels where he joined Les XX (Les Vingts), a group of artists centered on James Ensor. Johannes worked in various styles during these years, such as RealismImpressionism Neo-Impressionism and Post-Impressionism. I found many images where people are praying, some of which I think his strongest works.

The Prayer
The Nun
After his marriage to Annie Hall, a British woman, in 1886, Johannes alternated his time between The Hague, England and Brussels, and after 1890 also the Dutch seaside town of Katwijk aan Zee. During this period he developed his unique Symbolist style, with dynamic, unpredictable lines based on Javanese motifs, highly stylized willowy figures, and curvilinear designs.

In the late 19th century (1897) he lived for 20 years in a small house in the seaside town,  Domburg, Walcheren, Zeeland. He worked with a group of fellow artists, including Marinus Zwart and Piet Mondrian. There was no joint endeavor or common style among them. Each followed his individual personality, but they sought their inspiration in "the Zeeland Light", in the dunes, forests, beaches and the characteristic Zeeland population. Johannes was the center of this group.


After this he turned to Art Nouveau styles, in which a similar play of lines is used for decorative purposes, without any apparent symbolic meaning. In 1905, together with his daughter Charley, he converted to Catholicism and began producing religious works. He also created book illustrations, posters, and stained glass designs. The overture for his move was made in the preceding years, as he joined a circle of Catholic creatives who called themselves De Violier. Having converted to Catholicism, the latter years of his life and career were focused on making pieces that correlated to his faith.

 Among the few official commissions he received from the Catholic Church in Holland were designs for stained glass windows in the St. Joseph Church in Nijmegen, executed in 1913, as well as a series of paintings of the Stations of the Cross for the church of St. Bernulphus in Oosterbeek, begun in 1916 and completed in 1919. By this time he was in poor health, however, and by 1920 was largely confined to a wheelchair, with his left leg paralyzed. Nevertheless, he continued to work effectively, producing numerous drawings and prints. 


Throughout his life Johannes also produced portraits, in sketch format and as paintings, which range in style from highly realistic to impressionistic.  He was a superb portraitist, and produced a large number of drawn and painted portraits of family, friends and fellow artists, as well as many portraits - usually in the form of highly finished drawings - of some of the leading Dutch writers, poets, clergymen, politicians, lawyers, musicians, composers and intellectuals of his day. 

Johannes Toorop may justifiably be claimed as one of the finest Dutch portraitists of the early 20th century in  the period between Vincent Van Gogh (1853-1890) and Piet Mondriaan (1872- 1944). He died on 3 March 1928 in The Hague in the Netherlands. His daughter Charley Toorop (1891–1955) was also a painter, as was his grandson Edgar Fernhout.


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