25 August 2013

WOJ Nieuwenkamp, Dutch painter in Bali (1874-1950)

WOJ Nieuwenkamp (born July 27, 1874, in Amsterdam in The Netherlands, died April 23, 1950, in San Domenico di Fiesole in Italy) was a Dutch painter, woodcarver, graphic artist, illustrator, art collector and a lot more. He was a globetrotter and the area he favoured mostly was Asia. His motto was in Latin ‘Vagando Acquiro’, ‘while wandering, I acquire (knowledge, ideas)’. The name of his houseboat was, not surprisingly, ‘De Zwerver’, ‘The Wanderer’. Between 1898 and 1937, he visited The Indies six times, which resulted in numerous drawings, etchings, prints, paintings and books, which he edited himself.

During his travels he made extensive notes and sketches in small and large booklets, which he worked out later in his artistic work and books. He gives us a picture of the way of living and thinking, of the rituals and the arts of the people in the countries that he visited. It differs from what an ethnologist, anthropologist, art historian or civil servant charged with a survey would write or report in the early 1900s, because he observed with the eyes and mind of an artist. The beauty of what he saw made a deep impression on him.

Nieuwenkamp is important for our knowledge of Bali at the beginning of the 20th century. He paid long visits to the island in 1904, 1906-7, 1917-19, 1935 and 1937. On April 4, 1904, during his first visit, he wrote: ‘there are so many beautiful things to see and to portray, which have not yet been noticed as beautiful, let alone discussed. Therefore I have decided to make a book with plates about Bali, the loveliest land I know’. This would become the album ‘Bali en Lombok’. The first part of it was published in the beginning of 1906.

He travelled by bike, by foot, on horseback; he stayed with Dutch civil servants, in pasanggrahans, in palaces, but also in a makeshift tent covering his camp bed. It appears that he was the first person in North Bali riding a bike. The people of Kubutambahan were so surprised, that they depicted Nieuwenkamp, with a mustache and a topee, on a relief of the Pura Madue Karang.
Wijnand Otto Jan Nieuwenkamp
Extensive preparations were made before embarking on his travels. He read about balinese culture, religion, history and literature, as much as what was available at that time. The Balinese drawings on paper commissioned by H.N. van der Tuuk between about 1880 and 1894, kept in the Leiden University Library, were studied so thoroughly that he was able to reproduce and draw them. His Balinese hosts were very much impressed by it. It is not impossible that this was the main reason why they treated him differently. During his first and second visit to Bali, Nieuwenkamp had contact with North Balinese artists who worked for Van der Tuuk, and bought drawings from them. This is important for my personal quest (Hinzler 1986-7) to find out more about these artists. When he visited the house of a woodcarver in Singaraja, he noticed a drawing of a ‘palm-wine tapper in a tree’ in the domestic sanctuary of the family. It resembled one of those from the Van der Tuuk Collection. It turned out that the drawing had been made by the carver’s father, I Ketoet Gede, who had worked for Van der Tuuk.

The second trip to Bali coincided partly with the Dutch military expedition to Badung and Tabanan in 1906. On July 6, he had permission to travel on board of one of the ships on their way to Bali, but he was not allowed to go ashore during the landing because of danger. He did not want to wait any longer, so he went by himself from Surabaya straight to North Bali by the end of July. In September, however, he met the Dutch in Denpasar. When he noticed that wooden parts of gamelan instruments were being used as firewood, both by the Dutch and the Balinese, he stopped them and rescued the beautifully carved pieces. In the Dutch newspaper ‘’Algemeen Handelsblad’’, he wrote articles about the destruction of the palaces and the killings (‘puputan’) in a very critical way. While walking around, he discovered the large bronze kettledrum, the ‘Moon of Pejeng’ in the Ubud region. He made sketches, drawings and rubbings of it, which he worked out later in the form of woodcarvings. In May 1925, he visited the Ubud region again. He was the first person to make drawings of the then recently (1922 or 1923) discovered rock carvings and sanctuary of Goa Gajah near Bedulu.

During his five travels to Bali, Nieuwenkamp ordered and bought drawings, objects, woodcarvings, doors, baskets and textile for museums and institutions in The Netherlands, as well as for his private collection. Because the origin, and in some cases the makers and artists, are named, and also because the process of manufacture is well documented in his diaries as well as books and articles based on them, the collection is very important.

Nieuwenkamp’s work is of great importance for North Bali. He made sketches, and produced woodcarvings, etchings, and a few paintings of temples, gateways, views, ships, people, textile and dancers. So far, a great number of them have only been reproduced in his books and articles which, by the way, were only published in Dutch. It was only in 1998 that an English edition appeared about the ‘First European Artist in Bali’, with reproductions of a selection of 321 drawings made during his whole career, 197 of which are pertaining to Bali. No separate issue exists yet on his work done in North Bali.

H.I.R.Hinzler, Leiden, March 2009
Carpenter, B., W.O.J. Nieuwenkamp, First European Artist in Bali, Uniepers, Abcoude, 1997.
Nieuwenkamp, W.O.J., Bali en Lombok, album 1, beginning 1906; album 2, January 1909; albums 1,2,3, Elsevier, Amsterdam, 1910.
Nieuwenkamp,W.O.J. Zwerftochten op Bali, Elsevier, Amsterdam, 1910.
Nieuwenkamp, W.O.J., Zwerftochten op Bali, Elsevier, Amsterdam, 1922.
Nieuwenkamp, W.O.J., De Olifantsgrot bij Bedoeloe op Bali, Nederlandsch Indie Oud en Nieuw, No. 10, 1925: 333-341.
Nieuwenkamp, W.O.J., Bouwkunst van Bali, H.P. Leopolds, Den Haag, 1926.
Nieuwenkamp, W.O.J., Beeldhouwkunst van Bali, H.P. Leopolds, Den Haag, 1928.
Nieuwenkamp, Boukunst en Beeldhouwkunst van Bali, H.P. Leopolds, Den Haag, 1947.
Nieuwenkamp, W.O.J. (grandson), Leven & Werken, Bouwen & Zwerven van de kunstenaar W.O.J. Nieuwenkamp, opgetekend door zijn kleinzoon, A.W. Bruna & Zoon, Utrecht, 1979.

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