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Found in Indonesia

Arts | 29 January 2017

Egbert Willem Van Orsoy de Flines and the Ceramics Collection of the Museum Nasional


The Museum Nasional has one of the largest collections in the world of Chinese export ceramics. All objects have been found in Indonesia, and most were collected by one man who devoted his entire life to this collection and donated it all to the country he loved, Indonesia.

Egbert in the 1950s

Egbert Willem van Orsoy de Flines was born in 1886 in a well-to-do Amsterdam family. At age 21 he left the Netherlands for a more adventurous life in the colonies and after five years in Surinam, South America, he signed up for a job in Semarang where he arrived in March 1913. While a bank employee, he must soon have started collecting antiques. Egbert did not collect just to admire the pieces, but he collected specifically to learn through the objects more about the country and its history: why different kind of wares had come to different places. Therefore, he was always keen to know the finding place of each object. Whether his trusted tukang antik, antique dealers, surely aware of his taste, always told him the truth remains an open question.

Cizhou jar, Yuan Dynasty, 13th – 14th century. Found in Sout Sumatra. Inv. no. 1414

By the late 1920s his house became too small and he decided that a better place for his collection would be the museum of theBatavia Society, now the Museum Nasional in Jakarta. The museum had almost no ceramics yet, so the offer was graciously accepted. After a new hall had been added to the building, the ceramic section was finally opened in September 1933. The following years the collection continued to grow to almost 5000 pieces in 1942, partly financed by the Society but mostly paid for by Egbert himself who remained the collection’s curator.

Staff of the Museum, late 1930s. Seated third from right is the secretary van der Hoop, fourth is the president Hoessein Djajadiningrat, and sixth is probably Egbert de Flines. Courtesy KITLV, Leiden

During the Japanese period all Dutch personnel was imprisoned. In 1946 Egbert took up his old job again as curator and he continued to do so also after the Dutch handed over the government, and hence the museum, to the Republic of Indonesia in late 1949. By that time Egbert had stayed more than 35 years in the archipelago and had little ties anymore with the Netherlands. Without wife or children, he wanted to stay the rest of his life with the one thing so dear to him, his ceramics collection.

Early 15th century dish with under-glaze blue decoration. Ming dynasty. Found in Padang Sidempuan, Tapanuli, North Sumatra. nv. no. 3653

But times had changed. The harsh economic situation of the young republic brought Egbert in financial troubles. Instead of spending his own money on new acquisitions, he now was forced to sell to the museum items from other collections he still owned. The end came in 1959 when Sukarno ordered all remaining Dutch citizens out of the country as a reprisal for the Dutch Government’s refusal to hand over New Guinea to the Republic. In a dramatic farewell, Egbert handed the keys of the collection to his successor, Abu Ridho, who would take very good care of Egbert’s legacy and became a ceramics expert in his own right.

Vietnamese dish, 15th century, decorated in under-glaze blue and over-glaze enamels. Found in Cirebon.  In. no. 1975

Egbert returned to the Netherlands, a poor and disillusioned man, and lived his last years in an old-folks house where probably nobody was interested in his stories about ancient porcelain found in Indonesia…. He passed away on 16 September 1964; a proper obituary has never been written but his spirit lives on in the world-class collection of the Museum Nasional.

Museum information:
Jl. Medan Merdeka Barat No.12,
Gambir, Kota Jakarta Pusat
T: +62-21 3868172

Opening Hours:
Tuesday to Sunday 8:00AM – 5:00PM
Closed on Mondays

Ticket price:
5,000 idr (local), 10,000 idr (foreigner)