PAINTER-TRAVELLER PAR EXCELLENCE
One of the most individualistic artists to have travelled and painted in the Dutch East Indies in the first half of the 20th century, Rudolf Bonnet stood out amongst his European painters-traveller peers for the steadfastness in which his training in drawing and painting in the Rijksacademie van Beeldende Kunsten in Amsterdam stayed with him through his numerous years spent outside of his native Holland in the rest of Europe and the island of Bali. He did not - unlike the German Walter Spies, the other notable European artist in Bali - allow his training in the European academic tradition of the early 20th century to be influenced by the prevailing visual traditions in Balinese art.
As with many of the painter-travellers of the early 20th Century, Rudolf Bonnet really blossomed as an artist when he began to undertake journeys outside of his native Holland beginning from 1920. Travel freed him from work life, with its regiment and intolerance for creativity and allowed his innate desire to flourish as he applied his training as an artist to new contexts.
Bonnet's initial trip out of Amsterdam led to a sequence of events and encounters that would shape his life profoundly. He first visited Florence in Italy on vacation. Seized by the liberated environment around him, Bonnet decided to continue staying in Italy, very quickly moving south to Anticolo Corrado, towards the warmth of the Mediterranean, away from the life of the commercial artist that he had established for himself in Amsterdam. His move to Anticoli Corrado gave him fresh impetus as a painter, marking the period of his career referred to simply as the Italian period. Bonnet sketched and painted incessantly, and not only the landscape around him but more distinctly, the people he met in his immediate environs. He also met fellow artist, W.O.J. Nieuwenkamp, who shared with Bonnet the wonders of the Dutch East Indies. Out of this encounter, Bonnet couldn't but eventually find his way to Bali.
Critics have noted aptly that 'his interest in popular types' was already becoming apparent in the 1920s. Bonnet himself expressed this proclivity in a letter dated to 1926:
My work might also be interpreted as a unit, as a single portrayal of a race. It is a story. The story of a peasant-class, preserved in its classical state and part of a people whose background spans the centuries.
PORTRAITURE AND CULTURE
The Balinese subject in the present lot is not identified as a specific sitter, which underlines Bonnet's professed notion that his portraits seek not so much to convey but to represent. Bonnet's Balinese sitter is dressed in traditional Balinese ceremonial clothing comprising of a colourful piece of brocade cloth called the saput tied around the chest with a silk scarf, umpal, in which a kris is inserted and rests on the back. The kris worn with the ceremonial attire is oftentimes an ancestral kris , an ornamental asymmetrical dagger with a sheath carved from precious wood and ivory. A scarlet hibiscus flower is worn over the left ear.
The ceremonial attire of the sitter is complete only with the head cloth called udeng, a square piece of batik worn as a turban and tied in a variety of ways, dependent on the inclination of the wearer. Each Balinese man is thought to tie his udeng in a fashion particular to himself, making the udeng one of the most individualistic but yet culturally specific accoutrement a Balinese man can wear.
Bonnet's sitter wears a udeng printed with repeated ornamental motifs, immediately distinguishing himself from the more elaborate all-over batik motifs found in a more traditional udeng. He is clearly young, seemingly modern and progressive, and yet Bonnet has painted a Balinese man wholesome and complete in his ceremonial attire - a Balinese man through and through.
The present lot has been painted with a finesse that is typical of his very best portraits. Fully mastering control of his drawing tools, Bonnet renders strongly outlined contour lines with a surprising deftness of stroke and a consummate hint of colour. The resulting portrait highlights the handsome well-chiselled physiognomy of the sitter, his eyes full of depth and an elegant pensiveness that could only have been executed by a superb portraitist. Using a pyramidal composition around the neck area, marked by the well-proportioned jawline and chin pointing to the ends of the shoulder blades, Bonnet employs a composition favoured by one of the most accomplished American portraitist, Thomas Eakins, in his landmark Portrait of Amelia C. Van Buren where the subject's head is tilted towards the shaft of light from the left of the picture (Fig. 2). Bonnet tilts his subject to the right of the viewer, wonderfully rendering the Balinese sitter's full, lean shoulders framed by the left shoulder dropped forward, accentuating his wellstructured collarbone. In Portrait of a Balinese Man, Bonnet distills the essence of Balinese culture through his subject who significance as a sitter is underlined by Bonnet's pursuit to represent, through him, a culture and its people.