In 1872, he moved with his family to the Netherlands, where he studied in Delft and Amsterdam.
In 1880 he became a student at the Rijksakademie in Amsterdam.
From 1882 to 1886 he lived in Brussels, where he joined Les XX (Les Vingts),
a group of artists centred around James Ensor.
Toorop worked in various different styles during these years, such as Realism, Impressionism Neo-Impressionism and Post-Impressionism.
After his marriage to an English woman, Annie Hall, in 1886, Toorop alternated his time between The Hague, England and Brussels, and after 1890 also the Dutch seaside towns of Katwijk aan Zee and Domburg.
During this period he developed his own unique Symbolist style, with dynamic, unpredictable lines based on Javanese motifs, highly stylised willowy figures, and curvilinear designs.
Thereafter he turned to Art Nouveau styles, in which a similar play of lines is used for decorative purposes, without any apparent symbolic meaning.