These beautifully decorated calendars were published by the Koninklijke Paketvaart-Maatschappij (KPM) in the 1920s and 1930s. The KPM was a Dutch shipping company for passenger and cargo shipping between the islands in the Indonesian archipelago. The ships also carried the mail. Because there were often delays, people in the Dutch East Indies used to joke that ‘KPM’ stood for ‘Komt Pas Morgen’. Loosely translated: won’t come until tomorrow. Another pun was ‘Kipas Pergi Mana’, where’s my cabin fan?; because of the heat.
The calendar designs were made by graphic designer Leo Léon. He designed five calendars for the KPM (for 1927, 1928, 1929, 1930 and 1931), all with an image of a Dutch East Indies painting in the middle. The whimsical and colorful border decorations are characteristic of the Amsterdam School style, which was a precursor to the international Art Deco style. These three come from a leftover batch from printing company L. van Leer & Co. in Amsterdam, which was rediscovered a few years ago. The calendars have never been used and are therefore still in near mint condition.
Calendar of 1928
The image in the middle is a reproduction of an oil painting by the Dutch painter Jan Poortenaar (1886-1958). Poortenaar was a self-taught artist but received lessons from other well-known painters such as Willem Witsen. He traveled a lot, accompanied by his wife Geertruida van Vladeracken, who was a singer, composer and recital artist. He accompanied his wife on the piano on a journey through the Dutch East Indies, between 1922 and 1924.
Poortenaar found an excess of subjects in Indonesia. Back in the Netherlands they published the book ‘An art journey in the tropics’. Poortenaar also wrote books about Indonesian dance, wayang and the Borobudur. He illustrated the books with his own etchings.
Calendar of 1930
The image in the middle is a reproduction of an oil painting by the Dutch artist Johan Gabriëlse (1881-1945), who was best known for his school wall charts and book illustrations of daily life in the Dutch colonies. He made this picture of a Javanese court dancer in 1921 for the Susuhunan of Solo (Surakarta). The original painting can now be viewed in the Tropenmuseum in Amsterdam.
After his first study trip in 1920/21, Gabriëlse left again in 1938 to the Dutch East Indies to live and work there for a longer period of time. This turned out to be a fateful decision. When the war broke out, he was unable to return home and in 1942 he was imprisoned in a Japanese internment camp in Ambarawa. Despite the harsh living conditions in the camp, Gabriëlse continued to practice his profession. He gave drawing lessons and sketched the daily life of the prisoners. On June 16, 1945 – just two months before the end of the war – he died of exhaustion.
Calendar of 1931
The image in the middle was made after a painting of a legong dance performance by the Dutch amateur artist Steven Andries Schouten (1875-1932), who lived in Medan from 1915 to 1924. Schouten was deputy secretary of the rubber planters’ organization on the east coast of Sumatra and made etchings and paintings in his spare time.