Born on May 3, 1902 in The Hague, Willem Gerard Hofker was named after his godfather, the artist Willem Witsen (1860-1923). Hofker grew up surrounded by artists: George Hendrik Breitner (1857-1923) and Isaac Israels (1865-1934) were friends of the family. In this artistic environment Hofker's talent was soon noticed. On Witsen's recommendation Hofker first attended the Royal Academy of Art in The Hague and later the Rijksacademie voor Beeldende Kunsten in Amsterdam. In 1928 he met Maria Rueter (1902-1999), the daughter of the artist Georg Rueter, they married in 1930.
Due to his wide range of talents Hofker became a succesful artist in the midst of the economic crisis of the 1930's. He was an excellent painter, etcher and draftsman, depicting cityscapes, rural scenes, nudes and portraits. In 1936 Hofker was asked by the manager of the Koninklijke Paketvaart Maatschappij (KPM) to make a ceremonial portrait of Queen Wilhelmina. This commission proved to be a turning point in his life, as KPM later commissioned Hofker to travel to the Dutch-Indies for five months to make drawings of the people and the culture of the Dutch colony.
Early in 1938 the Hofkers arrived by boat in Batavia (Jakarta). From there they travelled to Bali. They were so moved by the so-called 'Island of Gods', that they decided to settle there. At first they lived in Denpasar, before moving to the artist's village Ubud. Hofker's subjects were mostly young Balinese girls and women, but palaces and landscapes were also favoured subjects. In December 1943, after more than one and a half years of Japanese occupation of the Dutch-Indies, the Hofker's were taken from their house in Ubud and detained by the Japanese.
Hofker had an eye for beauty; he chose his models carefully. The girls who posed for him were sometimes of modest background: the girl next door or the domestic help, but there were also well-known sitters like the young Legong dancers Ni Tjawan and Ni Sadri, who were portrayed in their full dance regalia.
The sitter of the present lot, Ni Gusti Kompiang Mawar (1921-1996), was known by the Balinese, not only as an Ardja dancer in the palace of Ubud, but also for her Songket brocade woven fabrics with gold threads. Ni Gusti Kompiang Mawar was one of Hofker's favourite models. In the present lot she was circa 22 years old when she posed for him. There are at least seven drawings and eight oil paintings know of her, a large number depict her bare-breasted, giving Hofker's Balinese oeuvre an erotic aura, although this did not reflect any intimacy in reality. Hofker's strong friendship with her shows in the natural relaxed pose that he captured in the present picture.
The reflections on Kompiang's face, probably caused by sweat, are visible. Apparently Hofker thought this should be shown, making it a very realistic, almost tangible image. In the publication by Bruce Carpenter from 1993, these reflections were obscured for no apparent reason.
The pride that Ni Gusti Kompiang Mawar radiates in almost every portrait, makes one presume that she is wearing her self woven, precious garments. In a similar work by Hofker (now in the collection of President Sukarno) where Kompiang is painted in Ardja costume, the rich texture of songket is clearly recognizable. In the present painting Kompiang is not in Ardja costume, but is still ceremonially dressed. The bracelet and the golden subang ear jewelry (which indicates that she is unmarried), the flowers in her hair, and the beautiful garment covering her breasts, point to a special occasion. Her eyes are looking down, symbolizing humility, self-control and noble character.
It is likely that Hofker kept the present lot with him in a sleeping mat, together with a number of other drawings and paintings, while being detained by the Japanese. Shortly after their return in Amsterdam, in July 1946, Hofker sold the present lot at an exhibition at Arti et Amicitiae in Amsterdam to the mother of the present owner, where it remained until recently.
We kindly thank Gianni Orsini and Seline Hofker for their help in cataloguing the present lot.
To be included in the catalogue raisonné on the artist's Balinese oils and watercolours, currently being prepared by Seline Hofker and Gianni Orsini.