RESEARCH & ESSAY.
Born on May 3, 1902 in The Hague, Willem Gerard Hofker (1902 – 1981) was a celebrated Dutch artist living in Bali – Indonesia, a former Netherlands East Indies. Hofker attended the Royal Academy of Art in the Hague and later the Rijksacademie voor Beeldende Kunsten in Amsterdam. The artist grew up surrounded by master artists, like George Hendrik Breitner (1857-1923) and Isaac Israels (1865-1934) evolving the artist’s talent to create his oeuvres on cultural life, people, and artistic portraits. In early 1938, Hofkers and his wife, Maria Hofker-Reuter, arrived by boat in Batavia (Jakarta). From Batavia they continued travelling to Bali island. They were immensely affected by the prevalence of a cultural life in Bali, known then as the ‘Island of Gods, and they decided to settle there in period 1938 – 1946. At first, they lived in Denpasar, before moving to the artist’s village Ubud. Bali was the “Golder Years” of Mooi Indie (“Beautiful Indies”), which the Western artists presented idealized scene of landscape paintings in idyllic style that had been popular since late 19th century. Thus, Hofker created hundreds of paintings, drawings and watercolors elevating the Bali and Java cultures by highlighting the beauty and romanticism of women portraits.
Hofker had an eye for beauty and chose Balinese or European girl models perpetuated on his oeuvre. Entitled “Ni Kenjoeng By Lamplight”, the present work was painted by the artist in 1946. The subject represents a young Balinese dancer and weaver in sitting by a lamplight. Painted in charming bare-breasted Balinese girl posing in elegant and blossoming sensuality in sitting gracefully, the artist elevated the erotic and sensual Balinese women. Dressing a traditional slipcover of Balinese girl, the model is depicted in reclining her right hand on a horseblock while her left one restrains her dress. Her eyes are blandly gazing ahead with her sensual lips in flashing a serene smile, symbolizing sincerity, assertiveness and virtuous character. By her courteously-gaze skillfully set and captured by the artist, the present painting invites the viewers to interpret her personality exhaustively. The present work is one of the perfect examples of Hofker’s oeuvres reflecting the elaborate details of brushworks on her anatomy with the artist’s creative lighting and brushworks techniques to capture subtle quality of lamplight glowing the model’s skin and dress rendering textures of shadow.
“Ni Kenjoeng Bij Lamplicht or Ni Kenjoeng By Lamplight” subject recorded sitting by lamplight and her eyes gazing ahead on Hofker’s paintings like on the present painting is a unique and rare work of Hofker though the artist regularly painted his oeuvres entitled to “Ni Kenjoeng Bij Lamplicht or Ni Kenjoeng By Lamplight”. The figure’s facial on the present painting is visibly more juvenile and mature compared to that of earlier works. The elegant and blossoming sensuality of Ni Kenjoeng By Lamplight was the artist’s primary subject depicted in his paintings, drawings and watercolors, and Ni Kenjoeng figure as Hofker’s subject was painted more than one occasion. For example, compare in similar pose of model to Ni Kenjoeng Bij Lamplight subject but in different gaze, right leg and colors composition, entitled “Ni Kenjoeng Bij Lamplicht or Ni Kenjoeng By Lamplight” (1945), 41.5 x 29,00 cm in size, was sold at Christie’s Hong Kong, 23th November 2013, lot. 32, for HKD 1,180,000 or equivalent to US$ 152,220, initially estimated between HKD 900,000 – HKD 1,200,000 (see fig. 1). The catalogue illustrates that her eyes looking down, symbolizing humility, self-control, and noble character. Hofker studied his model intensely and more often than not, would reproduce identical compositions in different mediums.
Oil version of Ni Kenjoeng bij lamplight exists alongside drawings and aquatint etchings. For example, Hofker’s drawing in ballpoint pen version, entitled “Portrait of Balinese Girl” (1945), 37 x 24 cm in size, sold at Leonard Joel Melbourne – Australia, 14th April 2008, lot. 100, for AU$ 64,000 or equivalent to US$ 59,417, initially estimated between US$ 70,000 – US$ 90,000 (see fig. 2). A soft-ground etching version of the similar subject was also created by the artist. Compare with a soft-ground etching version, entitled “Ni Kenjoeng bij lamplicht” (1946), 50 x 35 cm in size, sold at Christie’s Amsterdam, 12th March 2013, lot. 101, for EUR 2,500 or equivalent to US$ 3,248 (see fig. 3). A drawing – crayons on paper version are also executed by the artist. Compare with his drawing on paper version, entitled “Balinese Beauty” (1943), 46 x 30 cm in size, sold at Borobudur Singapore, 21st November 2010, lot. 114, for SGD 91,500 or equivalent to US$ 70,509, initially estimated between US$ 26,923 – US$ 34,616 (see fig. 4).
The subject “Ni Kenjoeng Bij Lamplicht or Ni Kenjoeng By Lamplight” in gazing ahead pose painted oil on canvas like the present stunning painting is Hofker’s testament revealing the sensuality and sincerity of Balinese girl and creating a romantic myth suffused with tantalizing sensuality imagery for viewers. During the Japanese invasion in 1942, Hofker was captured and detained by the Japanese troops in December 1943, and he was released in 1944. Hofker and his wife then returned to the Netherlands in 1946 to avoid the uncomfortable political climate in Dutch-Indies (Indonesia). The artist then reproduced themes and subjects based on his destroyed paintings fashioned in a series of lithographs and etchings versions in various pose, composition and media.