Professor X has been found

The unknown man in a portrait in Omnia is former Rector Magnificus Becking.
Johannes Hendrikus Becking, by Francois Jacob Diederich Boers

The mystery was solved just a few days after Resource #11 rolled off the presses. The man who figures in the story ‘Who is Professor X?’ is Johannes Hendrikus Becking, former professor of Forestry and Rector Magnificus of the College of Agriculture during the academic year of 1955-1956. A reader identified him with the help of Google.

The portrait in question has been on display in the portrait gallery opposite Faculty Club Novum since the Omnia building opened last autumn. But no one knew who the subject of the portrait was. About half of the portraits are of former rectors, but there have been a fair few of those. Before 1956, it was a rotating role and professors took turns to do a year’s stint as rector.


The key to the riddle, interestingly, lay in the archives of the university library, where there is a stock of old issues of the Nederlands Bosbouw Tijdschrift (Dutch Journal of Forestry). And the November issue of volume 34 contains an account of Professor Becking’s retirement from the Agricultural College in October 1962.

Becking became a professor at Wageningen after the war in 1946. He was well over 50 by then and had already had a career in the Dutch East Indies. He was born in Surabaya in 1890, the youngest of three brothers. He studied forestry in Wageningen from 1908 to 1912 at the National Agriculture and Horticulture College, a forerunner of WUR.

Chief Inspector

After completing his studies, Becking returned to the Dutch East Indies and made it to the rank of Chief Inspector of Forestry. In 1929, he went back to Wageningen for a while to obtain a doctorate. After the war, there was clearly no future for him in Indonesia and he and his family returned to the Netherlands for good. Where he became a professor at the Agricultural College.

It is beyond doubt that Becking is the person we were looking for. The Forestry magazine reports that he was presented with a work of art by painter F.J.D. Boers. And that is the signature on the portrait in question. 

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