In 500 Words - Portrait of Marie Jeannette de Lange by Jan Toorop, 1900
Marie Jeannette de Lange was a Dutch amateur painter and reform dress advocate. Born in Batavia in the Dutch East Indies in 1865, Jeannette moved with her husband to The Hague when she was 22. There, she became immersed in the artistic scene of the Netherlands, drawing and painting under the guidance of Maurits van der Valk and Philippe Zilcken.
In 1898, Jeannette helped to organise an exhibition of women's labour in The Hague, an event that artist Jan Toorop designed the poster and catalogue for. The two became acquainted, and their friendship culminated in a portrait of Jeannette painted on the threshold of the 20th century.
Johannes Theodorus Jan Toorop was a Dutch-Indonesian painter born in 1858 in Purworejo on the island of Java in Indonesia. Known for the variety of artistic styles he covered over his lifetime, Toorop’s work was influenced by Amsterdam Impressionism, Symbolism, Art Nouveau and Pointillism. He was also a ceramicist, sculptor, glass painter and graphic artist.
As a direct outcome of the exhibition at The Hague, Jeannette organised an association of members and published a monthly magazine with patterns to enable women to craft more comfortable clothing. Up until this point, women's clothing wasn’t practical for athletic activities and sports. In response, the reform dress was designed - a loose-fitting dress that was worn without a corset and with little decoration.
Toorop’s Pointillist portrait of Jeannette depicts her clothed in a reform dress - a light, dusty pink garment with a short bolero. It’s possible she made the dress herself, in line with the principles of the reform movement she chaired. Seated in her own drawing-room, studying a book by the light of a kerosene lamp, Jeannette is cloistered by the raucous heads of roses, lilies, and a clutch of Asteraceae, a possible allegory for the ostentatious and claustrophobic nature of the clothing she rallied against.
Toorop had started experimenting with the pointillist technique in 1888, likely inspired by Georges Seurat’s A Sunday Afternoon on the Islands of La Grance Jatte. In adopting Pointillism or Divisionism, Toorop sorted colours into individual dotted pigments, relying on our optic system to blend the spots into a fuller tonal experience. For the most part, Toorop also avoided hard outlines and strong contrasts in the portrait, allowing tones to meld and drift with freedom
Portrait of Marie Jeannette de Lange was unveiled in the Autumn of 1900, in an exhibition of the Art Circle of The Hague. Toorop then showed the portrait at numerous retrospectives and shows, to a largely positive reception. Writer and art critic Lodewijk van Deyssel described the portrait as:
…precious and tender, fair delight, wholly light in both meanings of the word...
Toorop regarded the portrait as one of his best works, yet he quickly shifted to other artistic avenues. Though he was increasingly drawn to portraiture after 1900, he never returned to the Pointillist portrait, ceasing at the crescendo of this particular artistic undertaking.