Willem Gerard Hofker (1902-1981)
Signed and dated Bali 1938 upper left and signed, dated,
and titled on the reverse
Executed in June-September 1938, and in the original artist’s frame
Oil on canvas, H. 38 x W. 27 cm
From the collection of dr. Jan Willem de Stoppelaar (1895-1956), who was an indologist and an administrative official in Java. He served at the B.B. (Binnenlands Bestuur, the Domestic Administration of the Dutch East Indies) at several posts in Central- and East-Java, a.o. Surabaya, Banyuwangi, and Semarang. In 1928, he was appointed Assistant-Resident in Semarang; later on, he was transferred to West-Java. De Stoppelaar was Assistant-Resident in Garut when Willem and Maria Hofker travelled through West-Java. Possibly, they got acquainted with de Stoppelaar while visiting Garut, April 1938.
Willem Hofker (1902-1981) never had any ambition to visit the former Dutch East Indies, now Indonesia. Until 1938, apart from an occasional study trip to Paris, he had never even travelled outside the Netherlands. But when he did, from 1938 until 1946, Hofker arguably created his most powerful body of work. A commission to portray the Dutch Queen Wilhelmina marked the starting point of his pivotal journey to the Dutch East Indies. The KPM (Koninklijke Paketvaart Maatschappij) requested him to travel - initially for only five months - through the Dutch colony and draw his impressions, which could be used by the KPM as promotional material.
After having attended the presentation of the Queen’s portrait at the KPM Headquarters in Batavia (Jakarta), Willem and Maria Hofker visited Buitenzorg (Bogor), Bandung, and Garut, from February to June 1938. On the 12th of June, they arrived in Bali and there was one major challenge: finding Balinese models. Willem Hofker was a shy, introverted type, and without having a substantial network in Bali (yet), Willem and Maria were left to their own devices in this respect. And even when arrangements were made with a Balinese beauty to come and pose, sometimes they simply failed to show up. This didn’t keep Hofker from working though, for in the first months of their stay, Hofker regularly drew and painted Balinese architecture. Many years later, he wrote: “In a society where (quite rightly) no one has time to model (always hurrying!) [...] a figure painter is then forced to turn to still lifes, which is also a distinguished task.”
Just like still-lifes, architecture is always ‘readily available’ and in the Netherlands, Hofker reverted to Amsterdam canal houses, whereas in Bali, temples and palaces were abundantly present and waiting to be portrayed. The reinvented passion proved to be prolific, since after only four months in Bali, Hofker had already produced 85 conté drawings and 15 oil paintings. Promoting Bali as a travel destination, the KPM issued a set of twelve reproductions of Hofker’s conté drawings in early 1940. On one of these, a drawing of Pura Kehen, the accompanying text says: “The enormous number of temples found in Bali is explained by the fact that each “dessa” (village) has three or four public temples, viz. a main one dedicated to various generally recognized and to local deities, the deads’ temple on or near the grave-yard or cremation place, one on the beach consecrated to the marine deity and one on the slopes or on the top of a mountain dedicated to the mountain deity.” From the above, one can distract that defining which exact temple was depicted by Hofker in ‘Raksahsa’s’ is impossible. We can conclude, however, that the painting must have been executed sometime between June and September 1938, and that it was probably made in (or near) one of the South-Balinese villages of Denpasar, Klandis Kedaton, or Pagan.
Taking a closer look at the present painting, we clearly see the two statues taking centre stage in the composition. Hofker consciously zoomed in, leaving out the contour of the whole temple gate, in order to put all focus on the two fearsome characters. There is a nice contrast between the off-white andesite statues, and the temple walls, typically constructed from red clay bricks. Through the opened doors we catch a glimpse of the beautiful weather. Not used (or able) to sit in the tropical sun for hours, Hofker smartly chose the right time of day to paint. He was clearly charmed by the quietude, the patina of the ancient moss-grown temple gate, and the frozen postures of the two Raksasa’s.
Raksasa, meaning ‘giant’ or ‘gigantic’, but the more apt and specific description of this monstrous character is Dvarapala, which literally means ‘doorkeeper’. The aesthetics of the Balinese Raksasa statues are derived from Dvarapala statues, which have been found in Javanese 8th-century Buddhist temple complexes. Their main purpose is to ward off evil spirits. What is essential in Balinese culture is the co- existence of right and wrong - positive complementing negative. Balancing these opposites, leading to a neutral outcome, is of utmost importance. In this case, balance also means symmetry; the statues are very similar, but not exactly the same.
Hofker must have had a special appreciation for Balinese architecture, and especially this painting, since he completed it with a self-designed frame, which he then decorated using his signature spattering technique.
Attesting to this appreciation, between 1946 and 1950, Hofker made nine etchings with Balinese themes, based on original drawings and oil paintings. The largest
of these nine, is an etching depicting a split temple gate, with two Dvarapala prominently featured in the middle of the composition. One could argue that it is a monochrome echo of the present ‘Raksahsa’s’ from 1938. This way, we have come full circle; arguably one of Hofker’s first Balinese compositions, the 1938 painting ‘Raksahsa’s’, and one of the last, the 1949 etching of ‘Poera Batoe Karoe’, are very similar. But not exactly the same. They complement each other, creating a perfect balance.
We are thankful to Gianni Orsini for writing this catalogue entry