Dutch painter Jan Toorop was an artistic chameleon. He was jumping from one painterly style to another with ease and flippancy. However, it was not a straight path, but more of a labyrinth in which he wandered back and forth.
His diverse work embraces paintings in Impressionist, Pointillist or Symbolist style; yet he is most associated with Art Nouveau movement. In the Netherlands, he has been downright equated with this style. Even famous Gustav Klimt considered the Dutchman as the most significant source of inspiration.
The ornamental play of lines in his late works is recognisable straight away. Art Nouveau is in fact often called slaoliestijl (eng. salad oil style) after… widely known Toorop’s poster ad for Delft salad oil.
At first sight, some of Toorop’s works seem to be very ‘van-Gogh-ish’. Just look at the colours and bravely applied impasto technique in his recognised masterpiece The Shell Fisherman, 1904. The central figure appears to be ‘built’ from thick brushstrokes and the layers of paint are forming the shape. Vincent would have definitely appreciated the method, and result.
The difference is a much more rough technique in Jan’s paintings. His colours seem to be greasy, mixed with dirt, the canvases treated ferociously with a painting knife, full of scratches and scuffs.
Both painters were Dutch, and both have lived in the same cultural environment, defined by the newly born artistic era. It was Toorop who organised the first Van Gogh exhibition to be held in the Netherlands, in 1892. But it would be the greatest mistake to consider him as Vincent’s imitator. He was an extremely progressive and genuine artist, always on the quest to explore new techniques and trends.