From the Black is beautiful. Rubens to Dumas catalogue: Dutch hero Anton de Kom

Because I receive more and more requests from abroad for the exhibition catalogue Black is beautiful, Rubens to Dumas from 2008, I will publish, again, some of my research and writings in this book. The book has become unaffordable on Amazon.

Today, 7-11-2019, is heroes’ day in the Netherlands. I don’t know exactly what that means, but it is a good reason for posts about heroes.

Anton de Kom door Donker Duyvis
Jan Adriaan Donker Duyvis, Anton de Kom 1938, coll Tropenmuseum Amsterdam

Jan Adriaan Donker Duyvis 1887-1960  Anton de Kom1938,Pastel on paper, Collectie Tropenmuseum, Amsterdam.

Donker Duyvis has depicted the Surinamese anti-colonialist, resistance fighter and writer Cornelis Gerard Anton de Kom (1898-1945) in soft, warm, pastel tones. De Kom is looking down so his eyes cannot be seen, while his hair sticks up rather wildly. He sports a similar hairstyle in Piet Zwart’s (1885-1977) well-known photograph of him from this period. Duyvis’ pastel is a naturalistic portrait; the colours in De Kom’s skin and hair have been rendered with great precision and feeling for nuance. There is otherwise little depth for the background is even and the clothing sketchily represented. Donker Duyvis seems to have brought the soft, purple-brown colour scheme and decorative flatness with him from his birthplace of Batavia, now Jakarta.

Donker Duyvis wanted to be a doctor and trained for this in the Netherlands. When illness compelled him to abandon his medical studies, he taught himself to be an artist. According to the few published reviews of his work, he was drawn to an extremely wide range of subjects. At exhibitions he displayed works with relatively neutral titles, such as A mulattoNegro mask and Baboe. Other titles, such as Woman fighting for ideals and Rebel monk reveal that he may felt a connection with people fighting for freedom.

Anton de Kom fought for freedom both in Surinam and the Netherlands. He came to the Netherlands in 1921 and worked for a bank for many years. His increasingly political attitude eventually cost him his job, in 1931. In 1932 he took his family to Surinam to visit relatives. There he attempted to introduce socialism but was soon imprisoned and expelled from the country in 1933. According to the publication De Barnier 2000 people (‘workers’) were waiting on the quay in the Netherlands to welcome him as a hero. He settled with his family in The Hague and began to write for the journal published by the workers’ and writers’ collective Links Richten, (see picture above) which issued a special ‘negro number’ in 1933.

De Kom’s book Wij slaven van Suriname ( We slaves from Surinam) see picture below was published the following year. To everyone’s surprise it proved a success and rapidly sold out. The book’s very success, plus its contents, had troublesome consequences for De Kom as no-one would employ him anymore.

His family became impoverished, even though he continued to publish his columns in various journals. When the Second World War broke out he became involved in the resistance movement. In 1944 he was caught by the Nazis and died in 1945, two weeks before liberation, in an outer camp of the Neuengamme concentration camp, not far from Bremen.

It is not clear how Donker Duyvis and De Kom met each other. De Kom, it later emerged, was well-known in socialist and communist artist circles; he also regularly visited the Kunstkring, so Donker Duyvis, who also lived in The Hague, may have met him there.

Esther Schreuder. See for footnotes the catalogue Black is beautiful Rubens to Dumas 2008

See for short film about Anton de Kom made for the exhibition Anton de Kom 

In the exhibition Black is beautiful. Rubens to Dumas another work could be seen on which De Kom is featured. It’s from Iris Kensmil. At least 5 other works by Donker Duyvis with people ‘of color’ are known to me.

About me EN:

In 2008 I was the guest-curator of the exhibition Black is beautiful. Rubens to Dumas. Important advisors Elizabeth McGrath (Rubens and colleagues), Carl Haarnack (slavery in books), Elmer Kolfin (slavery in prints and paintings) en Adi Martis (contemporary art). Gary Schwartz made his research available for The Image of the Black in Western Art .

Black beautiful Rubens to Dumas cover
Black beautiful Rubens to Dumas cover

In 2014 my essay ‘Painted Blacks and Radical Imagery in the Netherlands (1900-1940)’ was published in The Image of the Black in Western Art Volume V (I). (ed. David Bindman, Henry Louis Gates jr.)

In 2017 I published a book about the black servants at the Court of the Royal Van Oranje family. More than a thousand documents have been found about their lives. (only in Dutch)

Cupido en Sideron Cover 30-8-2017

All photos on this site are not intended for any commercial purpose. I have tried to trace all the rules and rights of all images. As far as I know, these images can be used in this way. If you ar a copyright holder and would like a piece of your work removed or the creditline changed then please do not hesitate to contact me.

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