Willem Otto Wijnand Nieuwenkamp
About the artist
WILLEM OTTO WIJNAND NIEUWENKAMP
Nieuwenkamp was born on July 27th 1874 in Amsterdam. His father owned sailing ships sailing to Indonesia and hearing the stories of the returning captains evoked in the young Nieuwenkamp an obsession for distant lands and adventure. After a failed attempt by his father to have his son make a career in his business, Nieuwenkamp attended the Academy for Decorative Art in Amsterdam. However, he left within one year to go his own way.
He was an autodidact and a great experimenter with new techniques, particularly in the art of etching. Nieuwenkamp was a very focused man with the discipline of a scientist tempered by the sensitivity of an artist, a lust for adventure, a natural appreciation for ethnic arts and an enormous ambition to tread new paths.
In 1898 he visited Indonesia for the first time and on his second visit in 1903-1904 he went on to Bali and became the first foreign artist to love Bali and the Balinese with a passion. Having secured agreements with several museums in the Netherlands to obtain Balinese art and objects for their collections, Nieuwenkamp immediately started to purchase and order a wide range of ethnographic art and objects from local artists and craftsmen.
Through his drawings and books, he gave an excellent impression of Balinese art and culture at that time. Since 1854 Northern Bali was under Dutch rule but Southern Bali in 1904, when Nieuwenkamp visited it, was still independent. Nieuwenkamp would be one of the last Westerners to experience a glorious medieval society in its final days. During his second visit to Bali in 1906 the Dutch decided to end the independence of South Bali and Nieuwenkamp was invited by the Governor-General van Heutz to accompany the Dutch invasion force. By contemporary European standards, the Balinese were barbarous and primitive, particularly with widows throwing themselves in the flames of the funeral pyre of their deceased husbands. But Nieuwenkamp was a singular man who saw in their society the beauty and soul that had been lost in his own.
On September 20th, 1906, Denpasar, the capital of South Bali fell to the Dutch military forces. Official military briefings praised the victory which was reported with nationalistic pride on the front pages of all Dutch newspapers. As Nieuwenkamp had witnessed, the truth was far from glorious. As if in trance the Balinese, men women and children, dressed in their finest silks and jewellery and armed with ancient bejewelled krises, the Raja himself mounted atop a golden palanquin, rushed forward, the men killing their wives and children and the Dutch machinegun fire doing the rest. The once-powerful and magnificent court of Denpasar was left in ashes and as many as two thousand Balinese dead. The Dutch suffered four deads.
Nieuwenkamp made drawings and saved as many beautiful architectural elements and artefacts from the rubbles as he could, most of it now in the collection of the Ethnological Museum in Leiden.