Catharina "Toto" Koopman (28 October 1908 – 27 August 1991) was a Dutch-Javanese model who worked in Paris prior to World War II. During that war she served as a spy for the Italian Resistance and was captured and held prisoner in the Ravensbrück concentration camp. She later helped establish the Hanover Gallery as one of the most influential art galleries in Europe in the 1950s.
Born in Java in 1908, Catharina Koopman was the daughter of the Dutch cavalry officer Jan George Koopman and Catharina Johanna Westrik, of Dutch and Javanese descent. She was named Catharina, but came to prefer Toto, her childhood nickname after her father's favourite horse. Her only sibling, Henry, nicknamed Ody Koopman (1902–1949), became a successful tennis player.
Toto Koopman left Java in 1920 to attend a boarding school in the Netherlands where she developed a talent for languages and became fluent in English, French, German and Italian. After a year at an English finishing school, she moved to Paris to work as a model.
In Paris, Koopman worked as a house model for Coco Chanel but quit after only six months. She also worked for the designers Rochas, Mainbocher and Madeleine Vionnet, appeared regularly in Vogue Paris and was photographed by Edward Steichen, Cecil Beaton, Horst P. Horst and George Hoyningen-Huene. Her most famous photo, was one that taken by George Hoymingen-Huene with her modeling an Augusta Bernard evening dress with very low back.
Koopman had a small part in the film The Private Life of Don Juan and although this was cut from the final production she still attended the film's premiere with Tallulah Bankhead, who introduced her to Max Aitken, 1st Baron Beaverbrook, generally known as Lord Beaverbrook.
Although Lord Beaverbrook was thirty years older than Koopman, the two began, in 1934, an affair that lasted some years. He was happy to pay for her travels throughout Europe in the 1930s and she often attended opera performances in Germany and Italy. When Beaverbrook discovered that Koopman was also in a relationship with his son, Max Aitken, he ran a series of stories in the newspapers he owned, including the Daily Express and the London Evening Standard, that made Koopman an outcast in London high-society. Koopman and the younger Aitken lived together for four years but he ended the relationship when she refused to marry him. In fact Koopman had signed an agreement with Beaverbrook which granted her a pension for life from him provided she did not marry his son.
In 1939 Toto Koopman left London to live in Italy. There she began a relationship with a leader of the anti-Mussolini resistance. When World War II broke out, she agreed to use her contacts and language skills to spy for the Italian Resistance. She infiltrated meetings of the Black Shirts but was captured. After spells in prisons in Milan and Lazio she was sent to the Massa Martina detention camp but escaped and hid in the mountains around Perugia, where she worked with a local resistance group. She was recaptured, promptly escaped again, and made her way to Venice. There, in October 1944, Koopman was caught spying on high-ranking German officers in the Danieli Hotel and quickly deported to the Ravensbrück concentration camp. Very shortly before the camp was liberated in April 1945, the Nazi authorities released several hundred prisoners, including Koopman, to the care of the Red Cross in Sweden. Randolph Churchill, the son of Winston Churchill, one of Toto Koopman's former boyfriends, went to Gothenburg and helped the emaciated Koopman obtain new clothes, a new passport and a wig for her shaved head.
While recuperating in Ascona in 1945, Koopman met the art dealer Erica Brausen who would become the love of her life. The two became lovers and would remain together for the rest of their lives.
Brausen wanted to open her own commercial gallery in London, so Koopman helped her. They went to London and opened theHanover Gallery. There they hosted shows by the then still new artists like Francis Bacon, Lucian Freud, Marel Duchamp and Henry Moore, in particular Francis Bacon, with whom Brausen was obssessed.
In due course the Hanover Gallery became one of the most influential galleries in Europe, which was noted both for the artists it featured and the unusual two women who owned it.
During the 1950s Koopman studied at the University of London and took part in several archaeological excavations. She made a donation of books to the Institute of Archaeology in London.
In 1959 Koopman and Brausen bought a property on the island of Panarea where they built six villas amongst extensive gardens and entertained very lavishly.
The two women continued to live together until Toto Koopman's death in August 1991. Erica Brausen "locked herself in a room with the body for 8 days, emerging only to buy fresh roses that she would arrange around Koopman's face every morning".
18 months later, Erica Brausen followed her to the tomb.