(Dutch, 1895-1978)
De Balische Offrande (Balinese offerings)
signed, dated and inscribed 'R. Bonnet/Bali 1935' (lower right)
chalk and pastel on paper
118.5 x 76 cm. (46 5/8 x 29 7/8 in.)
Executed in 1935
Acquired by the grandparents of the present owners circa 1935
The Hague, The Netherlands, Museon, Bali: Portraits by Lily Eversdijk Smulders & Rudolf Bonnet, 16 May - 21 September 2003.

Lot Essay

"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."
- Rudolf Bonnet
Rudolf Bonnet was first introduced to the tropical island of Bali through its representation in artworks by artists such as the Dutch artist W.O.J. Nieuwenkamp, and the German artist Walter Spies. Chasing the myth of the untouched, unspoiled land and its alluring inhabitants, Bonnet arrived in Bali in 1929 and settled in Ubud, its artistic and cultural locus. His aim was to immerse himself in the island's culture and landscape. For Bonnet, Bali was a grand stage and its people the enigmatic performers that he would capture again and again in expressive chalk drawings on paper. Executed on a grander scale compared to the single subject portraits he more often produced, De Balische Offrande (Balinese Offerings) (Lot 30) displays Bonnet's draughtsman-like understanding of the human form expressed nevertheless with subtle elegance and grandeur. From the level of detail in the picture, it is evident that Bonnet took great care in ensuring that his subjects were represented within his art to the highest classical standard.
Travelling around Europe in the 1920s, Bonnet spent an extensive amount of time in Italy where he stayed on in Florence and painted incessantly. Drawing inspiration from the masters of the Italian Renaissance, Bonnet was particularly interested in the study of portraiture. Carrying with him the spirit of the renaissance painters, and a romantic notion of the pure human form, Bonnet was keenly aware of the fragility of indigenous cultures in the colonial Dutch East Indies in the rapidly modernising world of the early 20th century.
Rudolf Bonnet led the formation of the Pita Maha organisation in 1936 that was primarily concerned with recognising and developing the quality of indigenous Balinese painting. Proof of his immense dedication to understanding and preserving the essence of Balinese life and culture, the Pita Maha organisation was also a means to increase awareness within a wider audience, and create a market for these local artists. Bonnet helped encourage an atmosphere of artistic excitement and production in Bali that recalled Europe's own renaissance and sparked what is referred to as the golden age of Balinese painting. Producing some of his most iconic and moving work during this period, Bonnet, alongside his contemporaries Theo Meier, Willem Gerard Hofker and Adrien-Jean Le Mayeur de Merpr?s sought to capture the emotions and expressions of Balinese life as perceived through European eyes that had come to care deeply for the tremendous vibrancy of life the island had to offer.
An excellent expression of the respect, as well as keen observation that Bonnet applied toward the depiction of his subjects, De Balische Offrande conveys an air of simple elegance through its clean lines and subtle palette. The central focus of the work is on a woman going about her daily duties, making her way through the village carrying a bowl of ritual offerings. With one arm resting gently on her hip, and the delicate form of her fingers accentuated by the light grasping of her intricately detailed sarong dress, her demure posture and the statuesque proportions of her elongated neck are reminiscent of Botticelli's renderings of figures from classical mythology. Her quiet gaze and calm expression serve to further establish her transcendent and timeless beauty. Bonnet succeeds in conveying his deep reverence for his subjects, and rather than exoticising and entrenching a sense of otherness, performs a visual translation that places the indigenous scene on the same register as European notions of beauty and classical perfection.
A rarity in Bonnet's oeuvre, De Balische Offrande also offers a glimpse of other characters populating the scene. The playful energy of the two young boys and the graceful lines of another female figure moving through the background remind us that while his portrayal and delineation of figures approaches the mythical and the grand, they remain firmly rooted in the reality of daily life. Revealing his affection for the quiet moments of life that arguably present the true flavour and essence of a culture, Bonnet has chosen to lovingly capture a brief moment in Balinese life, and imbued it with a meditative stillness that arrests the viewer.

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