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Charley Toorop
Self-portrait
1940
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Charley Toorop, Moral Realist
by Donald Kuspit


The "case" of Charley Toorop (1891-1955) has much in common with that of Jacob Epstein: both began as avant-gardists -- Epstein achieved instant fame with his Vorticist Rock Drill (1913-15), and Toorop grew up with the Symbolism of her famous father, Jan Toorop -- but both came into their own as "moral realists." For both avant-garde art was more a matter of art for the sake of art than art for the sake of life, thus upsetting the moral balance between them necessary for humanly as well as esthetically convincing art. Epstein once said that just because a work of art is deemed avant-garde doesnít mean itís inherently good, by which he meant that all the artistic cleverness in the world -- let alone formal purity -- could not "express. . . the great primal facts of man and woman." Similarly, Toorop, who appears as a child in a high chair in a fairytale forest of bizarre forms and enigmatic symbols in her fatherís masterpiece, A New Generation (1892), escaped the surreal forest of forms and symbols by turning to the facts of social life, which had their own kind of primal inevitability.

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