dewī (Old Javanese) goddess; queen, princess, lady
Toto Koopman – Javanese Goddess of Fashion and Espionage
FILM ART POETRY PERFORMANCE
WORK IN PROGRESS
Elsa del Corte
Written, Filmed, Directed by
A stunning combination of the British fictional heroines Modesty Blaise and the Madonna of the Sleeping Cars, Toto Koopman (1908– 1991) was the first biracial fashion model to achieve celebrity; she was also a spy, deported for her participation in the Résistance, and the muse for Europe’s most influential art gallery of the second half of the 20th century. From the island of Java to the studios of Vogue, from the Ravensbrück concentration camp to the London art scene of the 1950s and 1960s, this beautiful, multilingual, daring, playful and resolutely free-spirited woman left no one indifferent.
While some thought her dissolute and arrogant, others considered her loyal and irresistible. Toto Koopman routinely defied convention in her search for love and adventure. Indifferent to social taboos, she had lovers of both sexes—from Tallulah Bankhead to Lord Beaverbrook— before settling down with Erica Brausen, the visionary German woman who launched the career of artist Francis Bacon. The two women remained together for the rest of their lives. From 1947 to 1973, their art gallery represented the most important contemporary painters and sculptors and played a vital role in the history of art and aesthetics.
While parts of Toto Koopman’s life may seem to strain credibility, they are all true. Indeed, I believe many more facts concerning our beautiful and eccentric heroine have yet to be revealed. Capturing her essence for this biography was like trying to extinguish the burning bush—she remained elusive in every sense of the term.
Toto Koopman’s life story had the “Lubitsch touch,” meaning that the cast of sophisticated hucksters, double agents, fickle lovers, éminences grises and luminaries around her could have stepped out of one of that director’s films. Reality can sometimes surpass fiction: a bogus Russian princess who married the son of Arthur Conan Doyle, a war hero who became the patron of the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden and a woman who was a sworn enemy of Chairman Mao were among the people who influenced her destiny. Both Toto Koopman and Erica Brausen followed the teachings of the esoteric philosopher G.I. Gurdjieff and, for more than ten years, maintained a profound and volatile relationship with Francis Bacon. All those drawn into Toto’s circle lived by André Breton’s belief that « Seule la moindre perte d’élan pourrait m´être fatale. »/even the slightest loss of impetus could prove fatal./
FONDS DARSTELLENDE KÜNSTE