Jacobus van Looy was born in 1855 and lost both his parents at an early age. He grew up in the Burgerweeshuis (municipal orphanage) of Haarlem, that now houses the Frans Hals Museum. At the age of eleven years, he was apprenticed to a printer as a typesetter. This apprenticeship, however, was no great success. Jacobus gave up printing and became an apprentice carriage and house painter instead.
Johannes van Looy’s talent for painting was discovered by his art teacher at the municipal night school. Later on, he was allowed to develop his talents further at the National Academy of Visual Arts in Amsterdam. While still a student at the academy, he became the co-founder of the Sint Lucas’ painters association.
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Van Looy also joined the literary society Flanor. There he made the acquaintance of Willem Kloos, Frederik van Eeden, Frans Erens, Albert Verwey, Lodewijk van Deyssel and other authors. Later on, this group came to be known as the Eighties Movement. Next to painting, Van Looy regularly wrote contributions De Nieuwe Gids, the movement’s literary magazine.
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In 1892, Jacobus van Looy married Titia van Gelder. They moved from Amsterdam to Soest, a village some 45 km to the east. As time went by, he became more and more estranged from his friends, but he continued painting and writing. Jacobus van Looy died in his native city of Haarlem at the age of seventy-five years.