Willem Gerard Hofker (1902-1981)
'Voor de tempel ingang' - 'Sitting at the temple entrance' , Ni Gusti Compiang Mawar annotated, signed and dated 'Bali W.G. Hofker 1945' (upper left) oil on paper, laid down on canvas, 27,5x27,5 cm Willem Gerard Hofker and his wife Maria Hofker-Rueter lived from early 1938 to February 1946 in the former Dutch East Indies. During the Second World War they were interned by the Japanese in South Sulawesi in December 1943. Maria was detained in Kampili and Willem endured three consecutive civilian camps known as Paré-Paré, Kali Bodjo and finally Bolong until mid-September 1945. Because of his profession as an artist, which is appreciated by the Japanese as a lofty art, Willem Hofker was able to continue to draw and paint during the entire internment period. In spite of the terrible conditions of deprivation, illness and hunger, he was able to see and create beauty.
Conditions in the camps were very poor, as Hofker only once mentioned this in a published interview with author Rik Valkenburg *: 'You are on a raft, as it were, and you can lose your balance if you do not adjust. ... everyone did their best to keep the raft steady. When we arrived in a very humid region in a wooded valley amidst the mountains of the Toradja-land, where there was no sunlight, in moisty huts made of fresh wood, we lay together in groups and received almost no food. We were losing weight rapidly and our strength was declining. The most beautiful lectures were given in those huts, which were conceived in the minds. In this way everyone did their best to keep themselves and others alive, with the last remaining strength'. But when Willem writes his first letter to his parents in September 23th 1945, stating that both he and Maria were well and survived the War, he only described an idyllic paradise where he was fortunate to be able to work: 'I was once enriched by the inhabitation of a primeval forest in the mountains, dripping with moisture and fantastic because of the aerial roots of the pandanus palms. There, too, I had to cut a clearing in the abundant vegetation, suggesting to be my studio'. In this primeval 'forest studio' Hofker created several of his most iconic Balinese oil paintings, all performed on paper and showing his most favourite objects, the portraits of the enchanting Balinese women in all their sublime grace and charm.
A particular example of one off these iconic pieces on paper is this recently discovered painting that is offered here presenting not one but three girls. She in the foreground is masterfully portrayed with her long coal-black hair pulled back under a crown of red hibiscus flowers, sitting in a relaxed position with tilted shoulders, leaning against a brick wall that opens up behind her. Her eyes are humbly lowered in a staring gaze that is reinforced by her slightly opened lips. Her arm is stretched over a copper bowl that is touched by the wonderful light of Bali, as shown by Hofker in various colours, reflecting on her skin. It is an effigy repeated by Hofker with the image of the girl named Ni Gusti Compiang Mawar but where he constantly changes the background. For example to a statue of the winged Balinese Lion, like in a drawing of March 1940, (see; Willem Hofker, painter of Bali by B. Carpenter on p. 89), or to a single girl with an offering pedestal on her head in a drawing also in square dimensions, dated 1944. This last one can now can be seen as a preliminary study of this magnificent new discovered oil painting 'Sitting at the temple entrance', performed in 1945.
Hofker uses the same composition as the 1944 drawing but completes it with two girls in the background carrying offerings. They are both standing outside, just now leaving the temple, illuminated by the brightest blue daylight enriched with the high fountain-like flag usually placed around the temple during ceremonies. These two girls are one and the same and known as Ni Dablig. She was a girl from the neighborhood Sumenta in Den Pasar where the Hofkers lived before moving to Ubud. She became one of the first permanent models of Hofker in Bali, as can be seen on many of his early drawings and paintings. Here too Hofker has repeated earlier individual works, which he made with the image of Ni Dablig, and combines them now into a well balanced composition. And again in 1948 when he designs the Bali Hotel poster.
But the center of our attention should be the enchanting Ni Gusti Compiang Mawar. Hofker has regularly drawn and painted her in the years he lived in the former Dutch-Indies. At least eight conté drawings and ten oil paintings of her are known today and were made between 1940 and 1945, most of which can be found in the monography published in 2013, showing for the first time an oeuvre catalog of the Balinese oil paintings by the artist 'Willem Gerard Hofker (1902- 1981)'. Hofker came into contact with Ni Gusti Compiang Mawar in Ubud where she was known as a performing Ardja dancer at the Royal Palace. Fascinated by her grace and beauty, she was often depicted by Hofker lying down, bare-chested and with her long hair sumptuously draped, which later labeled his Balinese oeuvre with an erotic aura. This newly discovered painting could very well be the final oil painting with her image ever by Hofker where she is pictured seated, similarly as the first drawing he made of her in April 1940. It is quite possible that he saw her in exactly this way for the first time, when he walked past her house in the street. A first glimpse of a girl that would adorn his work for many years to come, even in the midst of War, deep in the jungle of South Sulawesi in 1945 when he captured her in this presented masterpiece. Considering the year 1945 and the way the paint had been build up in this work, the fineness of the details, the use of probably his entire pallet of colours to make the whole stand out without saving any of the paint, makes you wonder if Willem Hofker realized that his freedom was so near? Or was it painted with the utmost of his last remaining strength, thinking it might be his very last? Be that as it may it is an exceptional fine painting that highlights all aspects of Hofker's talent and where he exposes 'Bali' in its full comprehensiveness.
Seline Hofker, May 2019 Exhibited:
-Makassar, Masonic Lodge, 11-16 January 1946, as no.4, during a joint exhibition of W.G. Hofker with Bonnet, Schudel-Petraschke and Los., noted as 'Voor de tempel ingang' / 'Sitting at the temple entrance', in the exhibition program of which an original document is kept in the W.G. Hofker archive of Seline Hofker.
-Collection Mr. J.L. Been, acquired in Makassar, January 1946 at the local Masonic Lodge and thence by descent in his family for the past thirty-seven years.
Mr. Jan L. Been knew Hofker personally from the internment camp in which they were both imprisoned during WWII. He, as chief agent of the Javaasche bank, had a leading role as manager of the financial resources within the camp and was greatly appreciated among his fellow prisoners according to the reports kept in the NIOD: 'Institute for war, holocaust and genocide studies' in Amsterdam.
record no. 1643 of Indische collection: 'Ons kampleven in Makassar, Pare Pare, Bodjoh en Bolong', manuscript van Fr.M. Geroldus, 1945'.
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