From the beginning of her artistic career, Charley Toorop (1891-1955) painted people with unnaturally large eyes and a piercing gaze. In 1920 and 1921 she lived in Paris and became acquainted with the ancient Egyptian tradition of Fayoum portraiture in Musée Guimet. In these likenesses, deceased per...sons were depicted naturalistically in a frontal position and with large, staring eyes. Toorop recognized this as her own way of portraying people and was greatly inspired by her new discovery. From then on, she painted her sitters in a predominantly frontal position and again with that fixed gaze.
This woman with her hard features is typical of Toorop. One of the old lady’s eyes seems slightly larger than the other, as in many of Toorop’s portraits. She did not paint people as any more attractive than they were. Indeed, she would often accentuate asymmetries or furrows in a face. In this way she did not create an idealized portrait, but rather placed emphasis on authenticity and personality.
Text: Myrthe Wesseling, guide and museum host