Lot 1050
  • 1050

Willem Gerard Hofker

1,400,000 - 2,200,000 HKD
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  • Willem Gerard Hofker
  • Ni Gusti Compiang Mawar, Reclining
  • Signed, inscribed and dated Mrt 43; Signed and inscribed on the reverse
  • Oil on canvas


Christie's Amsterdam, October 22, 1997, lot 158
Private Collection, Indonesia


Seline Hofker and Gianni Orsini, Willem Gerard Hofker, Uitgeverij de Kunst, 2013, colorplate 331, pg. 213 and plate 427, pg. 240


This work is in very good overall condition as viewed. There is evidence of wear to the edges of the work due to abrasions with the frame, but this does not affect the image of the work. Examination under ultraviolet light reveals no sign of restoration. Framed. Please note that the colors of the image in the catalog are inaccurate. For more accurate colors, please see the e-catalog link: http://www.sothebys.com/en/auctions/ecatalogue/2015/modern-contemporary-asian-art-evening-sale-hk0581/lot.1050.html
In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective qualified opinion.

Catalogue Note

 This languorous portrait of the full breasted Ni Gusti Compiang Mawar, reclining, her long hair spread over her pillow, is certainly suggestive. The connection between war, death and Eros has long caught the imagination of psychologists and perhaps the inherent insecurity of the Hofkers’ life in occupied Bali stimulated the creation of this series.”

Bruce Carpenter cited in Willem Hofker: Schilder van/ Painter of Bali, Pictures Publishers, Wijk en Aalburg, The Netherlands, 1993, p. 100

Willem Gerard Hofker was born in The Hague in 1902 to an encouraging father who identified and endorsed his son’s creative flair at a fledgling age. The budding artist trained under Netherlandish painters at The Hague Academy of Art and the Royal Academy of Art in Amsterdam, eventually becoming a fruitful painter, etcher and draughtsman despite the impeding Great Depression.

In 1938, Hofker and his supportive wife Maria sailed to the Dutch East Indies, traveling around West Java, Bogor and Bandung in pursuit of artistic muses. Hofker soon encountered mesmerizing Javanese maidens whom he found ‘wonderful to behold, as picturesque as people in the 17th century back home1. However, it soon dawned on him that these striking young girls were unwilling to model due to their adherence of their Muslim faith. A disappointed Hofker and his wife decided to move to the pristine island of Bali only six months later.

Much to his delight, Hofker discovered many winsome Hindu girls in Bali primed to pose for long periods of time. He contentedly admitted, ‘… it is a pleasure to have at last an entire population at one’s disposal. You look around, see charming, frank, naive, friendly girls, choose the sweetest of them and then the child will stand patiently for hours and hours, curious to see what you are doing2. Though their bucolic new home by a rustic Balinese village was a stark contrast to the colonial Javanese splendor they had previously experienced, it sparked their sense of adventure. The pair found themselves mingling with a burgeoning unit of Indo-European artists, each equally allured by the unadulterated charm of the atoll.

By 1940, war in the Netherlands obliged the couple to delay their sojourn, but the Japanese invasion of Bali in 1942 curtailed all prospect of returning home altogether. The two of them were held prisoners by Japanese occupants, but emancipated after six weeks once it became apparent that they were merely innocuous artists. Subsequently, they relished in a cathartic but apprehensive freedom for a few months. It was during this brief chapter when the artist produced a series of arresting works with heightened erotic nuances.

A noteworthy example of one of Hofker’s later, suggestive works, the present lot portrays an exquisite young girl, Ni Gusti Compiang Mawar, who inspired at least six known conte drawings and eight identified oil paintings, all produced between 1940 and 19433. Here, Ni Gusti Compiang Mawar lies gracefully on a bed of furrowed fabric, with her arms coquettishly stretched above her head. Her attractive portrait and uncovered torso are evidently the focus of the composition, which was based on a conte crayon study he had executed prior to this. It is apparent that after having experimented with varying stances, he decided to paint a slightly more conservative composition, deliberately obscuring Ni’s belly, which was otherwise exposed in the drawing. Despite her bare chest illuminated by a soft veneer of daylight, her erogenous body language and her luxuriant locks of hair, Ni appears to radiate with an aura of chastity. Her soft features and rounded face emanate a modest, youthful glow, and her downcast eyes are telling of restraint and dignity. The endearing nude does not intend to titillate, yet she summons admiration.  

The reclining female nude was manifest from the Greek classical period through the Renaissance, behind the secure façade of mythology. The Venus of Urbino, painted by the Italian master Titian, depicts a blatantly seductive goddess, whose calculating, piercing gaze seizes and then entices the viewer. Centuries later during the period of romantic Orientalism, the Western odalisque tradition of sybaritic exoticism prevailed. In contrast to the allegorical divinity in Venus of Urbino and the voluptuous concubine in Odalisque with a Slave, Ni Gusti does not serve to simply arouse. Rather, the heavy-lidded damsel bears a contemplative deportment that commands respect.  In fact, while most of Hofker’s depictions of Balinese villagers include their entire bodies, he chooses to take a more intimate, close view of Ni Gusti in this portrait.

Painted in the midst of war, the portrait does not merely depict a visually pleasing, mysterious, female beauty. It conjures ideas that had perhaps only recently surfaced from Hofker’s subconscious: notions of vulnerability, helplessness, and mortality. It is conceivable that Ni Gusti’s demeanor conveys an underlying element of abandon and defenselessness that mirrored the emotions insidiously materializing within the artist’s psyche. The defenseless disposition of this innocent adolescent is akin to that of the dying idol in Death of Orpheus, whose exposed, feeble body lays powerless as it accepts the inevitable onset of death. Comparable to this fallen hero, Ni Gusti embodies the majesty of an island, which was now in the control of foreign soldiers. Hofker had only just faced a traumatizing incarceration, but he still felt compelled to capture the poignant grandeur of susceptibility as, in his own words, ‘there is already too much ugliness in the world.”4

Unlike the more stylized works of Walter Spies and Rudolf Bonnet, Hofker’s opus consistently observed a sincere, academic Western verisimilitude. Upon close observation of the application of light seeping in the composition from the upper right, it is easily inferred that the artist honed his techniques in the Netherlands. Light and shading, so embedded in the Dutch aesthetic vocabulary, had already reached its pinnacle during the Dutch Golden Age. The portraitist arranges his model in a shaded space, but employs a theatrical back lighting that delineates her fleshy contours with reflective light. This palpable chiaroscuro effect, also evident in the works of the prolific Dutch master Rembrandt, provides the painting with sharp contrasts and a surreptitious bleakness.

Just a few months later, in December, the Hofkers were detained in separate camps, living in contemptible conditions until they were reunited in September 1945. By 1948, Hofker fabricated a series of etchings and lithographs based on earlier works. He also fashioned only two mezzotints, a technique he had not utilized for over a decade, one of which was based on the study of this oil painting.

Though Hofker painted for commission during his time in Europe, he had the opportunity to build a vast opus with unmitigated artistic liberty in Bali. In this welcoming island, he chose engaging models that stirred and inspired him in a certain, indescribable manner, and successfully revealed the essence behind their countenances. Captured in this impressive work is the tangible spirit of a living, breathing Ni Gusti, whose pondering mind remains elusive to the viewer. Her inexplicable, Eastern beauty, so accurately rendered in a traditional, Western medium provides this work with an allure that cannot be disregarded.

 1 Seline Hofker and Gianni Orsini, Willem Gerard Hofker, Uitgeverij de Kunst, 2013, p. 24

Refer to 1, p. 28

3 Bruce Carpenter cited in Willem Hofker: Schilder van/ Painter of Bali, Pictures Publishers, Wijk en Aalburg, The Netherlands, 1993, p. ??

4 Refer to 2, p. 140