Ernest Dezentje: A Journey Through Indonesian Art History


In the vibrant art scene of 20th-century Indonesia, one name that shines brightly is Ernest Dezentje. Born in 1885, Dezentje’s artistic journey traversed the landscapes of Mooi Indie, leaving an indelible mark on Indonesian art history. His connection with President Sukarno and the significance of his work provide a captivating insight into the cultural tapestry of the time.

The story begins in December 1950, when Mangil Martowidjojo, an aide to President Sukarno, walked along Jalan Veteran in Jakarta. Tasked with finding the renowned painter Ernest Dezentje, Martowidjojo aimed to recover a lost Dezentje painting intended for installation at the Presidential Palace. The emotional meeting between Dezentje and Sukarno exemplified the president’s appreciation for the artist’s work.

Sukarno, an art enthusiast, frequently commissioned Dezentje to create paintings displayed not only in Jakarta but also in Bogor. According to Goenawan Mohamad, Sukarno admired Dezentje’s art, much like his fondness for sculptures depicting harmonious, submissive women. Their friendship extended beyond professional collaboration, as evidenced by Sukarno entrusting his son, Guntur Sukarnoputra, to Dezentje’s care during turbulent times at the Presidential Palace.

Ernest Dezentje, a self-taught artist who began painting at the age of 30, belonged to the Mooi Indie artistic movement. This movement, documented in “The Journey of Indonesian Painting: The Bentara Budaya Collection,” was characterized by its depiction of the natural beauty of the Dutch East Indies. The lush landscapes of this colony became the focal point of Mooi Indie paintings, serving as promotional material to attract tourists.

Dezentje’s talent was widely acknowledged, and he became a prominent member of the Bataviasche Kunstkring, an artistic community in Batavia (now Jakarta). His paintings, influenced by early 20th-century Western Impressionism, always captured the abundant tropical light, as noted by M. Agus Burhan in “Development of Painting: Mooi Indie to Persagi in Batavia, 1900–1942.”

Ernest Dezentje’s roots can be traced back to a prominent Surakarta family involved in plantation business during the 19th century. His grandfather, Johannes Agustinus Dezentj√©, known as Tinus, played a crucial role in the Perang Jawa (1825–1830), earning him respect and accolades from the Dutch monarchy. The family’s ties with the Kasunanan Surakarta royalty continued through marriages, shaping Dezentje’s heritage.

Choosing Indonesian citizenship after independence, Dezentje married Siti Rasmani, a Sundanese woman from the picturesque Kampung Muara in Bogor. The serene landscapes of this village, nestled near Gunung Salak, inspired many Mooi Indie artists. Dezentje and Rasmani’s home in Bondongan, Bogor, where they later adopted a son named Satria Djupriyani, now stands as the PT Bostingko building.

Ernest Dezentje passed away on January 12, 1972, in Jakarta, and he rests beside his beloved wife in Kampung Muara Kidul, Bogor. His legacy lives on not only through his artistic contributions but also through the artistic endeavors of his adopted son, Satria Djupriyani, affirming the enduring impact of Dezentje’s journey through Indonesian art history.

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