Besides wood carvings I also collect old printed matter about the Dutch East Indies, Indonesia and Bali in particular. This 1940s luggage tag is one of my finest finds. The label was used on the ships of the Koninklijke Paketvaart-Maatschappij (KPM) to indicate which suitcases were destined for the Bali Hotel in Denpasar. This hotel, owned by the shipping company, was the first major tourist accommodation on the island. It was opened in 1928 and built on the site of the 1906 Badung puputan. Today the hotel still exists, holding a different name: Inna Bali Hotel.
Designed by Willem Hofker
The luggage tag is decorated with an image of a young Balinese dancer with a fan, which was drawn by the Dutch painter Willem Gerard Hofker (1902-1981). In the background Hofker has depicted a gamelan player and a woman carrying an offering bowl to the temple.
Hofker traveled with his wife Maria to the Dutch East Indies in 1938 for the unveiling of a state portrait of Queen Wilhelmina, which he had painted for the KPM head office in Batavia. After that, the couple made a tour of the Dutch colony, where they also visited Bali. Here they were struck by the beauty of the island and its friendly people.
Hofker immediately fell in love with the Balinese dancers, who willingly posed for him. In Java, the women often refused to model for him because of their Islamic faith, but in Bali most people were Hindu.
The artist couple felt at home and bought a small house in the countryside near Kerenang. In 1940, on the advice of their good friend Rudolf Bonnet, they moved to Ubud, where more western artists lived. Hofker had his own studio there and made colorful paintings and pastels of the people and life in Bali.
During WWII he and Bonnet ended up in a Japanese prison camp on Celebes. His wife was imprisoned in a women’s camp on the same island. Despite the difficult living conditions, Hofker continued to work. He made drawings of fellow prisoners and the daily activities in the camp, such as sorting rice, sawing wood and working in the garden.
After the liberation in 1945, the Hofkers initially wanted to return to Bali, but when Willem received a call to report to the army, they decided to return to the Netherlands. Hofker did not want to fight against a people he had come to admire. Back in the Netherlands, Hofker continued to make Balinese paintings based on old sketches and notes, but he never saw his beloved island again.