The ‘Indisch’-Indonesian landscape painter Ernest Dezentjé was the first who introduced me to art. His paintings dominated my life from the moment I set foot on earth. Practically every room in the parental home where my family and my grandparents lived together had a painting by Uncle Nes, my grandfathers’ brother who regarded my mother as the apple of his eye. Outside the house the world was ultimately fifties, austere Holland, inside it was very sensual ‘Indië’. Thanks to the paintings of Uncle Nes I learned that a multicoloured alternative to my grey daily world truly existed. I stared mesmerized at the paintings for hours, practically smelling its atmosphere. I loved them, sometimes hated them out of envy of their seductiveness and, finally at the end of the sixties when I was growing up, I felt too embarrassed to look at them due to the allusion to despicable colonialism made by my ‘guiltless’ fellow-Dutch when seeing them.
Ernest Regnard Leonce Dezentjé was, as artist, an autodidact. He dedicated his live to catching the incredible beauty of the Indonesian landscape. He had the good fortune that the first president of the Republic of Indonesia, and former architect, Soekarno fell in love with his work and made him court painter. When I was a small kid, my mother proudly told me that his paintings were present in the palaces of heads of state, like president Tito of Yugoslavia and the rulers of the Soviet Union. He later educated his adoptive son Dupriyani to be his succesor.
He was labelled an impressionist of the early Indonesian School and at a certain period of time was attacked by young radical artists considering him typical establishment. To me, above all, he was the mythical wizzard-like great-uncle who knew better than to come to freezing, Calvinist Holland, so I never met him.
Our house abounded with paintings dedicated to his favourite niece, my mother. Her high school diploma, her marriage, on every occasion he made a special painting for her with an inscription. The marriage painting intrigued me the most. Through this painting the toddler I was learned to accept that one’s life path is paved with highs as well as lows.
Although differences in time and space prevented me from working together with Uncle Ernest I feel that he revealed to me the power of art to sharpen up your senses and trigger off your fantasy to a higher level. And of course he unleashed within me the longing for Indonesia, even if it is no longer the country of my mother.