Jan Toorop was a Dutch-Indonesian artist, born to a Dutch father and Chinese-Indonesian mother. After travelling to the Netherlands as a young boy, he enrolled at the École des Beaux-Arts in Brussels in 1883, where he met many influential artists such as James Ensor and Théo van Rysselberghe.
Toorop joined the Brussels-based Les XX group in 1885 and participated in many of their annual exhibitions. He was greatly influenced by his fellow members of Les XX, adopting a more colourful, Neo-Impressionist palette. Taking inspiration from the pointillists in the group, Toorop became one of the most important pointillist painters in the Netherlands.
This work is a prime example of Toorop’s paintings of rural fishing communities in the south of the Netherlands. He was especially interested in the ‘simplicity’ of their daily lives. Toorop portrayed the fishermen at work on the coast, weaving an emphatic social criticism throughout his paintings. He painted many of the fishermen and women seating in the dunes, hauling in their boats, or mending their nets.
A fisherman battles through the waves at high tide, hauling his fishing boat ashore. With the sea swirling around his thighs, he strains forward, pulling a thick rope. The boat is not visible, we see only the fisherman’s effort. Dragging boats to shore was a recurring evening practice in small Dutch coastal fishing villages. The flat bottoms of the fishing boats made it easier for the fishermen to pull them onto the beach at high tide, as shown in this picture. While living in the seaside town of Katwijk aan Zee, Toorop must have witnessed the ritual on a daily basis.
Toorop was a Dutch-Indonesian artist, born to a Dutch father and a Chinese-Indonesian mother, on the formerly colonised island of Java. After a failed attempt to study at the University of Delft, Toorop enrolled at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Amsterdam, where he studied under Dutch artist August Allebé from 1880 to 1882. The following year, he enrolled at the École des Beaux-Arts in Brussels, where he met many influential artists including James Ensor and Théo van Rysselberghe. He became an active member of Brussels avant-garde circles and visited both Paris and London.
In 1883, Belgian lawyer and art critic Octave Maus founded the anti-academic Les XX group consisting of 20 Belgian artists. The group organised yearly exhibitions between 1884 and 1893 to counteract the more conservative Salon exhibitions. Toorop joined Les XX in 1885 as the only Dutchman among its four foreign members – the others being the French artists Auguste Rodin and Paul Signac and the Greek Périclès Pantazis. His involvement with Les XX inspired Toorop to work in a more colourful, Neo-Impressionist palette. As a result of his collaboration with the pointillists Paul Signac and Théo van Rhysselberghe, Toorop became one of the most important pointillist painters in the Netherlands.
After travelling widely throughout Europe, Toorop moved to Katwijk aan Zee with his English wife Annie Hall in 1890. He knew the area well, having lived there already in 1887. Like the French artists Jean-François Millet and Jules Breton before him, Toorop was interested in the ‘simplicity’ of daily life in the rural villages. He painted the fishermen carrying out their heavy work on the coast, expressing a certain emphatic social criticism he had been exploring in recent years – a notion often found in Neo-Impressionist artworks. He portrayed many of the Katwijk fishermen and women seated in the dunes, hauling their boats, or mending their nets, displaying their hardship as a key element to his paintings.
The yellow colour and thick impasto of High Tide are reminiscent of a work by one of Toorop’s contemporaries: Sunflowers (1888) by the Dutch artist Vincent van Gogh, who tragically died the year before. Toorop knew Van Gogh’s works well, as they both exhibited with Les XX in 1890 and (Van Gogh posthumously) in 1891. The yellow colours of the foaming waves in Toorop’s High Tide are strikingly similar to the yellows in Van Gogh’s Sunflowers, which he exhibited in the 1890 show. The rough application of paint and swift brushstrokes in High Tide reveal Toorop’s admiration for Van Gogh. After the latter’s death, Toorop was the first to organise a solo exhibition dedicated to the artist at the Kunstkring in The Hague in 1892. In collaboration with Johanna van Gogh-Bonger – widow of Vincent’s brother Theo and custodian of Vincent’s oeuvre – Toorop selected 45 paintings and 44 drawings. At the time of the exhibition, Van Gogh was still relatively unknown in his native the Netherlands and his avant-garde style was seen as rather controversial. As a result, Toorop’s efforts marked the first significant introduction of Van Gogh’s works to the Dutch public.
Toorop painted in his colourful Neo-Impressionist manner for several years, working mainly in the southern Dutch provinces of Zuid-Holland and Zeeland during the late 1890’s and early 1900’s. He gradually moved into a more symbolist approach, taking inspiration from the Brussels Art Nouveau style. However, Toorop never fully committed to a single style until halfway through his career. He easily moved between different styles, alternating between Neo-Impressionism and Symbolism. Ultimately, he decided on his characteristic symbolist Art Nouveau style. Toorop designed many lithographs using the decorative linework typical of the Art Nouveau, including his famous poster for Delft Salad Oil (1894). The design became immensely popular in the Netherlands, securing Toorop’s position as one of the leading Dutch Symbolists and contributing to Art Nouveau’s Dutch moniker as ‘Salad Oil Style’.
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