On the 17th of June 1937 the shipping company KPM in Batavia requested an official state portrait of Queen Wilhelmina from the company’s Headquarters in Amsterdam. The painting was to be hung in the main hall. Their wish was to replace their current portrait of the Queen which dated from 1898 and was considered too youthful looking. The KPM main office in Amsterdam commissioned the already renowned and respected portrait painter Willem Gerard Hofker (1902-1981) for this challenging task.
As Queen Wilhelmina did not wish to pose for the painter, assistance was offered by her personal secretary, Sir C.S. Sixma Baron of Heemstra, who provided Hofker, with permission of the Queen, with a non-official portrait photograph in black and white of Queen Wilhelmina (photo 1).
He also provided Willem Hofker with crucial information about the colour and specifics of the habiliment. In addition, he introduced the artist to fellow painters who had been in a similar position previously. Clearly, from a technical point of view, it was quite a challenging job to make a painting in full colour by using only a black and white photograph. Moreover there were strict rules of etiquette concerning images from royalty.
Seemingly Hofker had succeeded his challenging mission, as can be derived from the following quote, found in a letter from the KPM archives stating; “When HM, again by intervention of her personal secretary, was shown a reproduction of the sketch, she mentioned to say that the artist had done a wonderful job, portraying her without posing for it”. (Source: KPM archive).
In addition to the state portrait in oil on canvas and a preliminary study on paper, 500 reproductions (41 x 55 cm) were printed in 1937 by the Wereldbibliotheek. These reproductions were derived from a cliché made by the cliché factory of Dirk Schnabel. The reproductions were intended for distribution amongst the KPM- ships and oversea offices for embellishment. Four hundred of these prints were indeed shipped to The East Indies, by m.v. Boissevain in January 1938, together with the state portrait. The artist and his wife Maria Hofker-Rueter were given the opportunity to accompany the shipment, so they could personally deliver the portrait to the KPM Headquarters in Batavia (photo 2).
In 1946, after an 8-year period in the so called tropical Emerald Belt, Willem and Maria Hofker-Rueter returned destitute to The Netherlands. They were penniless due to the events endured in the Second World War, yet felt enriched by their experiences. They were profoundly grateful towards the KPM shipping company, which had made their stay in the former Netherlands East Indies possible.
During the war the official portrait of HM Queen Wilhelmina got publicly burnt by the Japanese occupiers. Willem Hofker was still in possession of his preliminary study for the official portrait and decided to use it to express his gratitude to the shipping company. On January the 1st 1948, Willem Hofker wrote a letter to the directorof KPM stating: “On occasion of the golden jubilee of HM Queen Wilhelmina, may I offer you the “Preliminary study” of the official portrait in oil on canvas from 1937 that was destroyed during the war. I hope you will accept it also as a token of my lasting gratitude towards your company, by whom I had the privilege to learn and appreciate overseas-Holland”. (Source: KPM archive)
Willem Hofker completed the preliminary study in 1948. He added more colour and detail and thus it was marked by a double date “1937-1948”, in the right upper corner. Hofker left a few details of the preliminary study untouched. In the left hand (holding the fan) for example, the structure of the study is still visible.
The completed preliminary study of “Queen Wilhelmina” shows, in a majestic way, the craftsmanship that Willem Gerard Hofker so obviously possessed.
Seline Hofker, May 2014
|Photo 1: Black and White photograph (KPM archive)
|Photo 2: Main Hall at KPM Headquarters (KPM archive)