The Artwork of Johan Rudolf Bonnet
Born in March of 1895 in Amsterdam, Johan Rudolf Bonnet was a Dutch artist who immersed himself in the culture and landscape of the Indonesian province of Bali. Particularly interested in the subject of portraiture, he took great care that his subjects were represented to the highest classical standard. Bonnet was keenly aware the colonial Dutch East Indies’ indigenous populations faced a fragile future in the twentieth-century world.
In the 1920s, Bonnet traveled around Europe and spent a substantial amount of time in Italy, particularly Florence where he learned the art of fresco painting. Inspired by the work of the Italian Renaissance, he sought to capture the emotions and expressions of Balinese life as seen through European eyes that cared deeply for the richness of life the island offered. Bonnet’s body of work draws parallels with the art of Renaissance painter Michelangelo Buonarotti, whom he considered one of his greatest examples, not in the least because they were both trained as mural painters.
Rudolf Bonnet used his draftsman training to create works with a subtle palette and clean lines. His work showed both his keen observation as well as his deep respect for his subjects and their culture. Influenced by the Art Nouveau movement in the early twentieth-century; Bonnet was used to stylizing his model’s faces, often elongating them. Yet, they would never become caricatures; they would always remain dignified and autonomous. It was Bonnet’s way of emphasizing the beauty he perceived.
Born to descendants of a Dutch-Huguenot family, Johan Rudolf Bonnet attended Amsterdam’s State Academy of Fine Arts and its National Arts and Crafts School. In 1920, he traveled to Italy where he produced a collection of drawings depicting village scenes, local people and landscapes. Bonnet rented a studio for several months in Rome and, during his stay in the city, met Dutch painter and printmaker Wijnand Otto Jan Nieuwenkemp. As the first European artist to visit Bali, Nieuwenkemp persuaded Bonnet to explore that country which had so impressed him. Bonnet first traveled to North Africa; the paintings exhibited and sold on this trip enabled him to continue his voyage to Bali.
Rudolf Bonnet arrived in Balit in 1929 and met German artist Walter Spies and the Dutch musicologist Jaap Kunst. With Kunst, he made a trip to the Indonesian island of Nias, which lies off the western shore of Sumatra. Upon his return to Bali in 1930, Bonnet was invited to live in town of Ubud by Cokorda Gde Raka Sukawati, an elected member of the Volksraad, the People’s Council. In 1936, Bonnet, along with Walter Spies, Cokorda Sukawati, and painter and sculptor I Gusti Nyoman Lempad, formed the Pita Maha (Great Spirit, Guiding Inspiration) artist association to select artists whose work could be exhibited and sold throughout the Indies, the Netherlands, and the United States.
After the outbreak of the war in Europe, Bonnet remained free in Bali until 1942 when the Japanese invaders ordered him sent to the Indonesian island of Sulawesi. He spent the remainder of the war inside internment camps in Bolong, Para-Para and Makassar. Walter Spies was arrested as a German national and was interred by the Dutch authorities in Bali as an enemy alien. In 1942, he and four hundred seventy-seven other German internees were deported by the Dutch to Ceylon. Their ship was bombed by Japanese planes; Spies and most of the other prisoners died at sea.
In 1947, Rudolf Bonnet returned to Bali where he built a house and studio in the Campaun area of southeastern Bali. Although the Dutch and Indonesian governments were in a period of worsening relations, he was able to reside in Bali due tohis relationship with President Sukarno, who had collected fourteen of Bonnet’s paintings. Bonnet founded the Golongan Pelukis Ubud (Ubud Painters’ Group) and created designs for Bali’s Museum Puri Lukisan, the Royal Museum of Paintings.
In 1957, Bonnet was expelled from Indonesia after he refused to finish President Sukarno’s portrait. He did not return to Bali until 1972, two years after Sukarno’s death. Upon his return, Bonnet assisted in the Royal Museum’s expansion and organized its opening exhibition. He died in Laren, Holland in April of 1978 after a long illness. Johan Rudolf Bonnet was cremated and the ashes brought to Bali. These ashes were combined with the ashes of his long-time friend Cokorda Gde Agung Sukawati, who had died in 1967, and were burnt together in a great cremation ceremony.
Rudolf Bonnet’s work is housed in many private collections and the collections of the Rijksmuseum Kroller-Muller in Amsterdam, the Neka Art Museum in Bali, and the Singer Museum in Laren, Holland. Founded in 1980 and supported by donations, the Rudolf Bonnet Foundation Netherlands supports Balinese artists and brings their work to the Netherlands for exhibitions.
Second Insert Image: Johan Rudolf Bonnet, “Self Portrait”, 1927, Pastel on Paper
Third Insert Image: Johan Rudolf Bonnet, “Male Torso”, Date Unknown, Color Pastels and Watercolor on Paper, 63.5 x 50 cm, Private Collection
Bottom Insert Image: Johan Rudolf Bonnet, “Self Portrait”, 1976 , Crayon and Pastel on Paper