SUDJANA KERTON (INDONESIA, 1922-1994)
PROPERTY FROM AN IMPORTANT ASIAN PRIVATE COLLECTION
SUDJANA KERTON (INDONESIA, 1922-1994)

NUDE

Details
SUDJANA KERTON (INDONESIA, 1922-1994)
NUDE
signed and dated 'S. Kerton '87' (lower right)
oil on canvas
78 x 102 cm. (30 3/4 x 40 1/8 in.)
Painted in 1987
Provenance
Private Collection, Asia

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Annie Lee
Annie Lee

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Lot Essay

The Female Figure in Indonesian Modern Art

The female figure is an iconic visual trope in Western art, with the female nude figure being a tradition in Western art that goes back to prehistoric Venus figurines – statuettes that portrayed a woman from the Upper Paleolithic periods onwards. Since then, women have been a constant subject of artistic interest, such as the exotic Tahitian women of Paul Gauguin’s canvases and Sandro Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus. Therefore, it is unsurprising that the female figure plays a similarly important role in Southeast Asian modern art, influencing and inspiring many of the great painters that have emerged from the region: from Hendra Gunawan’s sinewy cool-hued women along the beaches and cliffs, to the glowing sepia-toned weavers of Lee Man Fong’s oils.

The female figure in Indonesian modern art is one that holds significant cultural and historical meaning. Women held important roles in many traditional Southeast Asian communities, often given prominent roles in indigenous rituals, as well as providing a major source of labour both in the agricultural and domestic markets. This is evident in the various classical compositions that artists have portrayed them in. Indo-European painter Adrien-Jean Le Mayeur de Merprès often depicts women at a loom, weaving traditional Indonesian fabrics that are sold in markets, while one of the most popular subject matter of modern Southeast Asian art – Balinese dancers – visually re-interpreted by the likes of Sunaryo and Lee Man Fong, is part of a very real tradition of ritual and ceremony that play a major part in the lives of the local people even today.

This is not to say that these depictions of the female figure are completely realistic, often being idealised and exoticised as part of the Mooi Indie genre of painting that was especially influential during the Dutch colonial period in Indonesia. Paintings of this period captured a romanticised depiction of the Dutch Indies, landscape and daily life aglow in a shimmering sunlight. This was extended to the female figure, often shown as svelte beautiful young women within domestic scenarios. However, such works are representative of the powerful attraction and aura that drew these artists to paint them. In fact, a number of these artists went on to marry the women that they painted. Most notably of these, was Le Mayeur who soon after arriving in Bali met the young Balinese Legong dancer, Ni Pollok, who became his muse and model. Eventually, she would become his wife, continuing to sit for him and provide references for his studies much like in Woman Cowering by a Pond (Lot 538).

With the decolonisation of many of the Southeast Asian countries during the 50s and 60s, a formal education of Indonesian art developed. Fuelled by a gravity to restore the indigenous culture, there was a widespread search to explore and rediscover traditional art. Even then, the female figure still remained central to many of the artists practicing during the revolutionary era. In Sudjana Kerton’s Nude (Lot 540), he depicts a woman, reclining in an apartment that overlooks a modern city, her sinuous limbs dangling languidly off a chair. The lush foliage of the Balinese landscapes may have since transformed into a vibrant and dynamic skyline, but one thing remains the same – a testament to the longstanding fascination and reverence for the female form.

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