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Willem Gerard Hofker | IAS 2023 € 60.000,-

Willem Gerard Hofker | IAS 2023 € 60.000,-

Willem Gerard Hofker (1902-1981)
A portrait of Ni Bontoh
signed, annotated and dated ‘W.G. Hofker / Bali / ’42’ (upper right); address of the painter ‘Zomerdijkstr. 30 II Amsterdam’ (written on the reverse)
oil on canvas, 43,5×34 cm

-Seline Hofker and Gianni Orsini, ‘Willem Gerard Hofker (1902-1981)’, Zwolle, 2013, p. 163, ill. no. 214, as: ‘Ni Bontoh Bali’ and p. 238, ill. no. 404, as: ‘Ni Bontoh’.

-Acquired directly from the artist in Makassar in 1945 by Taco R. Mulder; thence by descent to the present owner.

Ni Bontoh
It was clear from an early age that painter Willem Gerard Hofker (1902-1981) had a talent for the craft. When he was 14 years old, his father remarked that he preferred working with paint to going to school. Homework was skimmed, just so he could spend time painting or drawing as soon as possible. In early 1917, Willem Hofker started his studies at the Royal Academy of Art in The Hague. After which, at the insistence of his godfather – painter Willem Witsen – he continued his studies at the Rijksacademie van Beeldende Kunsten in Amsterdam.

Hofker’s father Gerrit was a senior civil servant at the PPT who had published in De Nieuwe Gids in his younger years and was friends with the Tachtigers, including the painters Israels, Breitner and Witsen. Through Gerrit Hofker’s letters, we have insight into the artist’s development. On 24 April 1920, Gerrit wrote to his friend Willem Witsen that the boy ‘walks around feeling that he cannot achieve what he wants to achieve in his work’. You must know your trade, be historical, technical, versatile, far beyond what is necessary, genius!’ This burden, seen early on by his father, gives Willem an enormous drive. A desire to want to do everything right, which allowed him to appear selfish, which he was by no means. Willem was an introvert, like his father who acknowledged having been one himself, and worked incredibly hard. But despite the dedication, Hofker had serious doubts about whether, as an independent painter, he could earn a living. The reward came with winning second place in the ‘Prix de Rome’ encouragement competition in 1924. After completing his military service, Hofker moved into his first Amsterdam studio in an attic room on the Rokin. A larger room that could be used as a studio only came later, on Sassenheimstraat, after his marriage to Maria, the eldest daughter of the artist Georg Rueter (1875-1966). Portrait commissions followed and Maria, who loved taking care of him, gave him all the space he needed to work. When the move to a studio flat, on Zomerdijkstraat, became possible in September 1934, Hofker couldn’t believe his luck. This large studio lent itself extremely well to welcoming people, which also allowed him to expand his oeuvre by working on nude models. His first solo exhibition followed shortly afterwards in 1935. Two years later, he was awarded the prestigious commission, by the shipping company K.P.M., to create a state portrait of Queen Wilhelmina: a commission that would change his life and cement his future as a painter. After completing the Queen’s portrait, Hofker was offered – along with his wife – to personally deliver the portrait, which was intended for the headquarters in Batavia, now Jakarta, in the former Dutch East Indies.

On 5 January 1938, the Hofker couple, aboard the Ms Boissevain, left for Batavia. The beginning of an inspired period that would last eight years in total. After Batavia, Willem and Maria travelled on to Bali after a few months. There they settled in Denpasar after which they settled in Ubud in 1939. There they remained until late December 1943, when they were interned by the Japanese. Enchanting Bali and its beguiling people was, as for countless immigrant artists before him and after, a lush tropical habitat full of creative possibilities. Hofker devoted himself wholeheartedly to his work. He captured the essence of Bali and its indigenous people in all its facets. He exhibited at various art circles and sold his work well, making a living for the couple.

Hofker chose his models in Bali from his surroundings, such as the girl Ni Bontoh, seen here in the 1942 painting offered for auction. She lived in Ubud and, like many with her, regularly walked in a procession past the yard where Hofker lived, to the temple. Maria wrote about Ni Bontoh posing for Wim in her diary back in 1939: ‘Wim spent a long time painting the festively adorned Bontoh. All the best she looks, when she is so beautifully made up for a temple party, with hairstyle and flowers. Even the hairdressing itself was so sweet to see’ (December 27, 1939).

Ni Bontoh is one of the Hofker’s few Balinese models that looks the viewer directly in the eye. With her uninhibited gaze, which seeks direct contact, Hofker gave a mirror to her soul, letting her inner beauty come to the surface. The light hitting the side of her face as well as just touching her nose and deep red lips gives her a tropical glow. The presence of the sunlight that makes her shine with warmth is expressed by Hofker in different colour facets on her dark skin. Truly a great painting in which Hofker once again expresses his deep admiration, for this Balinese beauty in all her splendour.

Bali’s special traditional costumes and jewellery also feature richly. The crown of red Hibiscus flowers in Ni Bontoh’s hair is decorated with the ceremonial gold flower that playfully pops out at her neck. It is a hair ornament of curled gold foil worn by women at weddings and temple celebrations, complete with the traditional ear jewellery. The woven shawl worn by Bontoh, which is also draped over her shoulder, is decorated with motifs in gold thread. The repeating pattern of floral motifs has been set up by Hofker in rich impasto and as a whole, she is portrayed as truly beautiful.

Taco Rudolf Mulder (1908-1994) was a Resident Secretary in the Domestic Administration on Ambon. He was interned by the Japanese on Celebes in 1942, during World War II. There, he met the painter Willem Gerard Hofker, who was assigned to the same corvée with him. Hofker made a portrait of Taco in 1945, with a special note that reads ’to my friend Taco’. Both lived through the camps: Paré-paré, Bodjo and Bolong. After the liberation in Makassar, the portrait of Ni Bontoh was bought from Hofker by Taco, who is the father of the current owner. He brought it with him to Holland and had it framed by the painter in Amsterdam. In 1998, the owners explored the option to sell the painting, but eventually decided they treasured it too much and and although the painting was included in the sales catalog, they withdrew ‘Ni Bontoh’ before the viewing days started. The painting ‘Ni Bontoh’ by W.G.Hofker would eventually remain in the possession of the same family for seventy-eight years.

Seline Hofker

  • Date 11 juni 2024
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