• Christies auction house James Christie logo

    Sale 2616

    Southeast Asian Modern and Contemporary Art

    30 November 2008, Hong Kong

  • Lot 418

    HENDRA GUNAWAN (Indonesia 1918-1983)

    Flower vendors

    Price Realised  

    HENDRA GUNAWAN (Indonesia 1918-1983)
    Flower vendors
    signed and dated 'Hendra 58/Bd' (lower left)
    oil on canvas
    59 x 39 3/8 in. (149 x 99 cm.)


    Contact Client Service
    • info@christies.com

    • New York +1 212 636 2000

    • London +44 (0)20 7839 9060

    • Hong Kong +852 2760 1766

    • Shanghai +86 21 6355 1766

    Contact the department

    Hendra's portrayal of women is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful female portraits in the history of Indonesian modern art. Indeed, it is difficult to find parallels for them in the Indonesian history of portraiture as these ravishing images are rendered with the most unique and individualistic style of the artist. The artist's muse is not of a specific person but rather he drew inspiration from the many women he knew of in the community. She could be a vendor on the side of the street, a neighbour or simply someone who was just in passing and who Hendra managed to catch a glimpse of and then transposed into an eternal icon on the canvas.

    The importance of women in the works of Hendra was discussed by Astri Wright who wrote that "Hendra's women are types, not clearly distinguishable individuals, and many interpretations of their roles and meanings are possible. At the most basic level, they are nourishing, nursing, mothering beauties, voluptuous and undulating bodies wrapped in brightly coloured cloth. Their forms are echoed by the forms of papayas, eggplants, and cucumbers. They are young and their long graceful arms, exaggerating the elegant hand movements that are so typically Javanese, contrast with their thick feet with widely spread toes - the feet of villagers and farmers. This way of depicting feet, as well as the use of exaggerated profiles, with long necks, protruding noses, and large eyes, echoes the stylization of human form found in wayang." (Astri Wright, Soul, Spirit, and Mountain: Preoccupations of Contemporary Indonesian Painters, Oxford University Press, Kuala Lumpur, p. 176).

    The woman is a reflection of the artist's cosmos. Hendra's obsession with all things Indonesian finds a perfect expression with this subject. If she was breastfeeding a baby with her strong, masculine feet rooted firmly to the ground, she was a symbol of the artist's beloved motherland, the young republic of Indonesia. If she was depicted in glorious colours, dressed in the finest traditional batik, she would be the symbol of the great Javanese culture that was close to the artist's heart. If she was placed in a grandiose landscape with which she could almost merge as one entity with her curvaceous body, which Hendra had intended to be reminiscent of the dramatic landscape, she would be the embodiment of all things that are beautiful and Indonesian. Hers was the privileged body on which light fell onto and made perfect.

    Many factors contribute to the exceptional quality of the present lot, Flower vendors. The subject is rendered typical of Hendra's classical portraitures where the sitters, with their elongated and slender frames, donned batik dresses of exquisite intricacy and had their side profiles enhanced. The palette is exceptionally rich, made up of colours that are deeply saturated and yet luminous and vibrant. The paint was applied with such spontaneity and vigor that it still looks fresh, as if Hendra had completed the painting only moments ago.

    With Flower vendors, Hendra is seemingly at his whimsical best. As a colourist, the red and green shades complimented one another with a vividness that is in accordance to Hendra's decorative tendency, which he developed further in this work by painting the enhanced details of the patterning on the batik worn by the women thus granting them a bejeweled effect, mesmerizing the viewer.