© President and Fellows of Harvard College
Gallery Text

A leading figure in the history of modern Dutch art, Toorop is particularly esteemed for the elaborate drawings he created in the 1890s in a rhythmically linear style inspired by art nouveau. Most were based on arcane allegorical themes; some, as with this drawing that illustrates the 1894 poem “Le passeur d’eau” by Belgian poet Émile Verhaeren (1855–1916), were inspired by symbolist literature. The poem evokes a dreamlike ordeal in which a boatman, lured by a mysterious female voice, rows feverishly through the waves until his oars and rudder break and he awakes suddenly from his trance to realize he never left shore. The confusing array of figures, settings, and activity results in a composition far removed from a naturalistic representation, indicating the artist’s intention to represent ideas instead of a tangible reality. Toorop executed the drawing on a support composed of tightly glued boxwood blocks, the standard printing matrix for wood engraving. It is not known why the design was never cut, or which publication this image would have illustrated.

Identification and Creation
Object Number
Jan Toorop, Dutch (Purworedjo, Indonesia 1858 - 1928 The Hague, The Netherlands)
The Ferryman
Other Titles
Original Language Title: Le Passeur d'eau
Work Type
Physical Descriptions
Blue and red-brown ink over white gouache on wood blocks pieced together
sight: 30.2 x 25.7 cm (11 7/8 x 10 1/8 in.)
frame: 35.2 × 30.2 cm (13 7/8 × 11 7/8 in.)
Inscriptions and Marks
  • Signed: Signed, lower left, red-brown ink (in reverse): JAN TOOROP 1895
  • inscription: lower left, brown ink: [in reverse] [? VAN EMILE VERHA]EREN DOOR JAN TOOROP. [Sigma symbol?]. 1895. )
  • inscription: back of wood blocks, graphite: illegible inscriptions
[Justin G. Schiller, Battledore, Ltd., Kingston, New York], sold; to Kathryn and William W. Robinson, Newton, Massachusetts, 1994, gift; to Harvard University Art Museums, 2002.
Acquisition and Rights
Credit Line
Harvard Art Museums/Fogg Museum, Gift of Kathryn and William W. Robinson in honor of James Cuno
Accession Year
Object Number
European and American Art
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Exhibition History

Flowers of Evil: Symbolist Drawings, 1870–1910, Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, 05/21/2016 - 08/14/2016

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