(Dutch, 1895-1978)
Two Balinese Men
signed, inscribed, and dated 'R. Bonnet Bali 1954' (upper right)
chalk, pastel and watercolour on paper
80 x 70.5 cm. (31 1/2 x 28 in.)
Executed in 1954
Acquired directly from the artist in 1958
Thence by descent to the present owners

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Lot Essay

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 his expressive drawings on paper.

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. The sculptural rendering of Two Balinese Men (Lot 226) is characteristic of the artist's ceaseless fascination with the physicality of the Balinese inhabitants, and of his desire to elevate and immortalize these "noble savages". It is their tools of work that give away the humbleness of their daily lives, and it is through Bonnet's artistic vision and steady hand that they are elevated to the highest standards of classical beauty.

Self-Portrait, Age 32 (Lot 227) is a stunningly introspective work that was executed the year before Bonnet's move to Bali, and marks a time in the artist's life where he had begun to yearn for inspiration and an experience outside the comforts of Europe. The artist surveys us out of the corner of his eye, allowing the steady gaze more often cast on his subjects to be here cast on himself. Unlike the portraits of both his European and Balinese period that presented idealized representations of the human form, Bonnet's self-portrait does not shy away from the gauntness of his own cheeks, nor the effects of age in his gradually receding hairline. In this rare moment, the artist reveals himself to us.

Bonnet's draughtsman-like understanding of the human form extends to Study for Toradjas (Lot 228), a vertical portrait of one of his most favoured sitters. Clad only in a loincloth, Bonnet captures the strength and power underlying muscle and flesh with a technical precision that recalls ancient Greek sculpture. Preferring the humble tools of chalk and paper, over the more cumbersome medium of paint on canvas, Bonnet positions himself as an observer of the moments of elegance that can be found in daily life.

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