HENDRA GUNAWAN (1918-1983)
HENDRA GUNAWAN (1918-1983)

PENJUAL BUNGA (FLOWERS VENDOR)

Details
HENDRA GUNAWAN (1918-1983)
PENJUAL BUNGA (FLOWERS VENDOR)
oil on canvas
168 x 70 cm. (66 1/8 x 27 1/2 in.)
Painted in the early 1960s
Provenance
Acquired directly from the artist by Mr Boentaran (1921-2006)
Thence by descent to the present owner

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Lot Essay

The original owner of the present lot, Hendra Gunawan's Penjual Bunga (Flower Vendors), Indonesian businessman Mr. Boentaran, was born in Semarang, Indonesia in 1921. Mr. Boentaran established a raw material and machinery distribution company, Firma Marathon Indonesia, which supplied steel and titanium to the Indonesian state-owned railway company of his time, Perusahaan Negara Kereta Api (the present-day PT Kereta Api), and various imported fire arms and equipments to the Indonesian army-owned Pabrik Senjata dan Mesiu (the present-day PT. Pindad). Success and recognition in his field of business brought Mr. Boentaran recognition and friendship with generals of his era including Ario Damar, Rivai, Panjaitan , Gatot Subroto, and Ahmad Yani. He was also a close friend of businessman Bob Hasan, a close associate and confidant of the former president Soeharto. Mr. Boentaran appreciated the fine arts and was an avid art collector in his lifetime. In the early 1960s, he began to put together a collection of superlative works by key Indonesian modern artists such as Affandi, Lee Man Fong, S. Sudjojono and Hendra Gunawan. The present lot, Penjual Bunga was one of two iconic Hendra Gunawan paintings that Mr Boentaran acquired, the other being Penjual Batik. As with other collectors of his era, Mr Boentaran's art collection reflected the humanist interest that the Indonesian modern painters invested in their paintings. Affandi's Fisherman with his Catch (Lot 121 - 20th Century Art Day Sale) is another painting formerly in his collection. When Mr. Boentaran passed away in 2006, his art collection was inherited by his three children.
In its style, composition and colour palette, Penjual Bunga (Flower Vendors) is particularly representative of Indonesian modern painter Hendra Gunawan's works from the early 1960s. Works from this period are characterized by a particular palette of gradated tones and mellowness of colours. Hendra's paintings reflected his love for Indonesian life and his sensitivity to the tapestry of colours and textures of daily life and Penjual Bunga (Flower Vendors) is an outstanding work in this regard. The exceptional quality of the painting is distilled in the slim vertical format canveses that Hendra preferred, particularly in the 1960s. Reminiscent of the paintings in classical western art that were ecclesiastical commissions as altarpieces in churches, Hendra's works gain a certain stateliness and historical grandeur despite painting scenes from everyday life. Works from this period have begun to move away from the earthy colours found in Hendra's works of the preceding years, becoming suffused with light and a more natural colour palette.
In the painting, we see the clear line of evolution of Hendra's works from the 1950s to the 1960s. The transition of Hendra's works between these two periods is characterised by the female figure becoming a figure type in his works. Hendra was a keen observer of daily life and people's interaction with one another, from fruit and food sellers to women at a traditional river bath. His muse is not a specific person but rather Hendra drew inspiration for his pictures from the many women he knew of in the community. In Penjual Bunga (Flower Vendors), the realities of daily life, distilled by the artist into a tight intimate perspective, the marketplace becomes a theatre for the unfolding of unassuming human behaviour. The womenfolk that Hendra observes so well assume larger than life status in the painting, rising above their daily existence to be immortalised in art history.
In fact, Hendra's portrayal of Indonesian womenfolk across his oeuvre has gained a place of iconic value in the pantheon of modern Indonesian art. Works such as Penjual Bunga (Flower Vendors) reflect the place of importance the female subject exists in Hendra's art. Hendra's fascination with all things Indonesian finds a perfect expression with the female 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 beautiful and Indonesian.
The fascination with daily life and the romanticism that Hendra Gunawan came to be associated with as a painter is inseparable from his early life. Born in Bandung, West Java, in 1918 to a working class family, Hendra Gunawan had grown up living a secluded and idyllic village life and was deeply involved in the theatre scene. It is no wonder that the scenes of local environs and a theatrical colour palette frequently emerge in his oeuvre. During a chance meeting with fellow artist Affandi in 1939, Hendra became determined to take painting as his vocation and later participated in the Sanggar Pelukis Rakyat (People's Artists' Studio) in Yogyakarta, Central Java together with another modern art maestro, Sudjana Kerton. Together with other fellow painters in his era, Hendra faced the most tumultuous period in the Indonesian history; marked with wars and political instability, and Hendra, being a nationalist, ended up being incarcerated due to his heavy involvement in the Indonesian Communist Party.
Painting within a context of rapid social and political evolution, the depiction of daily life literally became a reinforcement of the important values that underpin society and interaction between people. Penjual Bunga (Flower Vendors) sets the tone with its vivid depiction of seller and buyers at the market. The flowers are beautiful objects of transaction, and underline the grace, and simple elegance of the marketplace, which does not have to be ridden with competition and haggling. Here, the seller proffers with her outstretched hand a necklace of flowers, almost like the bestowment of offerings. The buyers, dressed in their resplendent multi-coloured batik, can only reciprocate in kind. In Hendra's ideal world, grace and polish reign and nowhere is this idealisation of the world better seen than in Penjual Bunga (Flower Vendors).

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