Charley’s Appels

Two apples in leaves, Charley Toorop, 1939, Museum Kröller-Müller

Never do two apples of equal size fall upside down on the ground next to each other in exactly the same way. Apple trees cannot arrange, artists can. Thus Charley Toorop painted ‘Two apples in leaves’ in 1939. After a tour of beautiful works in the Kröller-Müller Museum, such as ‘Venus with Amor as a Honey Thief’ from 1537 by Lucas Cranach the Elder, ‘Seated Woman’ by Vincent van Gogh from 1883 and ‘Head of a Crying Peasant Woman’ by Julio Gonzalez from 1941, I fall for this small work. It hangs quietly in a corner, a work you only see when you walk out of the room.

The little green painting immediately catches my attention. Like a dog I sniff at the canvas, close up, step back, close up again, trace, does it still have a scent after 74 years? The instinctive approach transforms into the rational, my dog’s snout turns back into my own head. What am I actually looking at? What am I looking for in that small piece of time? What does this work mean? Why does this seemingly simple painting intrigue me so much?

Without intention, I don’t know beforehand, I often end up in the interwar period. Now again. I don’t know this work, never saw it on pictures, of Charley Toorop I only know her portraits. Actually I know very little about her. I do know that she had a relationship with Arthur Lehning from 1928-1931. It is an enigmatic work. Two almost identical apples taking up the entire space, lit as if on a stage or film set. The green tinge, the velvety soil or leaves as the title says, the silence but also the life that is in them, even now.

Toorop had been painting fruit for much longer. In November 1931 she wrote to Lehning that she was working on an autumn still life ‘[…] and the apples are overripe and glistening with something deep and complete. Each leaf is a lonely dead one […]’*. It symbolized the dead love for her between them. That is not the case here, they are just right, so is the landscape. There are too few clues to reference the apples so it is ultimately about the fruit itself. With Magritte I read about the anthropomorphic in his work. I can imagine that here as well. In my experience, it is a portrait of two attached beings whose relationship to each other is not clear, family, friends or lovers.

The apple is a loaded fruit full of good and evil, innocence and temptation. Also a timeless fruit, without rank or station and in this painting untouched mature, ripe and scenically painted. She is also a pause fruit par excellence that makes you take distance from what you are doing, your thoughts lengthen, you come to yourself. In a pause, the time is yours.

Is Two Apples in Leaves a personal holding pattern painted in the threatening period on the threshold of World War II? Or is it more intimate, two being the highest number achievable for a human being. Is it a longing for the other or a memory of her great love Arthur, eight years later, a relationship she had to give up to continue painting. The work is material, inner, reflective, simple but full of eloquence with much warmth through the yellow glow of artificial light or perhaps natural light: the sunrise in a warming landscape. As a viewer you stand in the damp shadow of the foliage, the sun has not yet reached you.

Two apples in leaves is in harmony but unreal, staged, a dreamscape.

Over the decades, art has literally grown. Bigger, even bigger. It’s impressive, sure, yet it doesn’t grab me as often as the small, art that transposes one-to-one to your body. The painting fits exactly and so I walk out of the museum with this inspiring work.

© Karin van Pinxteren, August 25, 2013

* quote ‘Zelfportret van een liefde, Charley Toorop en Arthur Lehning’ by Toke van Helmond-Lehning. Publishing Bas Lubberhuizen.