signed ‘R. Bonnet’ (upper right); titled and dated ‘BALINESE ACTOR AS ARJUNA BERTAPA 1975’ (upper left)
charcoal and pastel on paper
83 x 49 cm. (32 5/9 x 19 1/4 in.)
Executed in 1975
Anon. Sale, Christie's Hong Kong, 26 October 2003, Lot 9
Acquired from the above sale by the previous owner
Anon. Sale, Christie's Hong Kong, 27 November 2005, Lot 17
Acquired from the above sale by the present owner
Private Collection, Indonesia

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Annie Lee
Annie Lee

Lot Essay

Life leads to decay and aging in Man and what Man built; Only beauty is truly enduring.
-Rudolf Bonnet

In the early 20th Century, a handful of European artists were drawn to the promising island of Bali, a place where they began an artistic legacy that would last for generations. Mesmerized by the untouched beauty captured in the works of artists such as W.O.J Nieuwenkamp and Walter Spies, Dutchman Rudolf Bonnet decided to take his own adventure to the island of Bali in the year of 1929. After witnessing the striking beauty of the people and culture of Bali, Bonnet decided to settle on the alluring island of Bali for the rest of his life. Bonnet realized that this exotic island filled with mystery would serve as the perfect grand stage upon which to express his artistic talents and inspirations.

The works of Rudolf Bonnet, especially his portraits, are considered extremely remarkable as every line contributes to a sensitive portrayal of the perfection, elegance, beauty and sophistication of his subjects. His mastery in depicting the beauty of human figures can be paralleled with the precision and grace of Michelangelo Buonarotti’s sculptures and paintings. In fact, Bonnet regarded Michelangelo as one of his greatest influences, having had a keen interest in the study of portraiture during his time spent in Anticoli Corrado, Italy, prior to moving to Bali. This period in particular had a profound impact on Bonnet, as he was greatly influenced by the Masters of the Italian Renaissance whom he believed had elevated the human psyche and physique to its most ideal through their art. As a result of this inspiration, Bonnet's artistic oeuvre largely consists of figurative works that reflect his desire to portray the variety of human life within what he saw were universal standards of beauty and perfection. Combined with his aspiration to preserve the rich indigenous culture of Bali, Bonnet set out to depict ordinary Balinese people partaking in ritual and everyday activities as recurrent subjects of his paintings.

In the present lot, Balinese Actor as Arjuna Bertapa, the Balinese performer is dressed in a flamboyant costume to play the role of the warrior, Arjuna. With his eyes closed and gently holding a single flower in his hands, Bonnet captures a quiet moment as the performer prepares himself before going on stage. The performer’s ornate headdress, necklace, and arm cuffs contrast his serene expression and gesture, thus contributing to the overall balance of the painting. The draughtsman- like rendering of the subject‘s body executed with Bonnet’s supreme precision of painting achieves the characteristically sculptural quality of Bonnet’s figures. The subtle and muted tone of pastel colours used by Bonnet further enhances the contemplative atmosphere surrounding this moment and the calm energy radiating from the subject. At the same time, the rough textural quality of Bonnet’s chosen medium of thick paper and the boldness of Bonnet’s strokes convey a quiet confidence to the viewer.

Arjuna is an iconic figure within Bonnet’s artistic oeuvre, having drawn the portrait of Arjuna multiple times. Arjuna is a warrior and a hero in the mythical legend of Mahabharata, which is one of the two major Sanskrit epics of ancient India. Rather than focusing on the scene of a battle or a conflict, which Arjuna is most identifiable for, the artist has chosen to depict a moment of intense reflection before the performance. The meditation of Arjuna is always considered a significant moment as it is through meditation that he was able to contemplate on the war and resist any thoughts that tempted him to deviate from his goals, and is mirrored here in the reflective reprieve of the performer. Through Balinese Actor as Arjuna Bertapa, Bonnet invites the viewer to engage with a consideration of Arjuna the warrior, and the performer who bears the weight to successfully play the role. Similarly, Rudolf Bonnet himself also bore the responsibility as an artist who was deeply committed to accurately representing and actively preserving the people and culture of Bali through his paintings. Balinese Actor as Arjuna Bertapa hence reveals itself as an intimate commentary on the multi-layered reading necessary to a deep understanding of a culture.

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