Balinese Market Scene

Balinese Market Scene
signed and dated 'RIZEK 1934' (lower right)
oil on canvas
61 x 76 cm. (24 x 29 7/8 in.)
Painted in 1934
Private Collection, USA

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Annie Lee
Annie Lee

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Lot Essay


The island of Bali has long been a rich source of inspiration to artists, writers, musicians and dancers from around the world. A province of Indonesia located between the islands of Java and Lombok, Bali has been celebrated by locals and visitors alike for its natural beauty as well as its unique cultural heritage and artistic traditions. Throughout the 20th century, artists travelled to Bali and captured its people and landscapes in the form of paintings and sketches, securing an important role for the island as an iconic subject in the art history of the region.

Inhabited since prehistoric times, Bali has long supported a local culture with religious beliefs grounded in Hinduism. Combined with indigenous animist customs, elements of Balinese Hinduism have permeated many aspects of daily life, including dance, festivals and architecture. In 1597, Dutch seafarers became the first Europeans to arrive on the island, but it was not until 1906 after decades of warfare and bloodshed that the island became an official part of the Dutch East Indies. Under colonial rule, Bali was opened up to foreign trade and commerce as well as tourism, and Western visitors began travelling to the island for business, research and pleasure.

During the 1930s, Bali became home to the anthropologists Margaret Mead and Gregory Bateson, musicologist Colin McPhee, and the artists Miguel Covarrubias and Walter Spies. All of these figures helped romanticize and popularize the image of Bali as a remarkable place of unspoilt beauty. McPhee, in his book ‘A House in Bali‘, described the island as "an enchanted land of aesthetes at peace with themselves and nature," while Covarrubias' ethnographic book Island of Bali became a literary sensation in the West, lauded for the detailed sketches of Balinese women, dancers and scenery that Covarrubias had made in the field.

The popularity of these materials depicting Bali as an island paradise filled with peace loving natives led to a steady stream of visitors throughout the 30s and early 40s, including a number of artists and painters who would become long term residents on the island. The Dutch artist Rudolf Bonnet arrived in Bali in 1929, where he became fascinated by Balinese people and culture, creating intimate portraits and sketches of local men and women. The Belgian artist Adrien-Jean Le Mayeur de Merprès became similarly enthralled by Bali upon his arrival in 1932, where he would create vibrant canvases filled with light, colour and movement, painting his wife and muse Ni Pollok, a Balinese legong dancer, alongside with her friends as they offered flowers, danced and engaged in daily activities. A group of these works were exhibited in Singapore in 1933 to great success, he would in exhibit thrice more as well, where they would in turn inspire a number of Singaporean artists to travel to Bali themselves in pursuit of inspiration. Among them were many prominent members of the Nanyang art group, including Cheong Soo Pieng and Chen Wen Hsi, who would go on to paint many of their own images of Bali.

In the colonial period, artwork created by European artists living in Bali and other parts of the Dutch East Indies gave rise to the concept of Mooi Indie – Dutch for "Beautiful Indies" – a genre of painting that captured the romantic beauty of the Indonesian landscape and native people. Balinese legong dancers were a favoured subject, as were portraits of native men and women, and scenes from daily rituals and ceremonies. European artists Han Snel, Willem Gerard Hofker, Emil Rizek and Auke Sonnega all visited or lived in Bali during this period, deriving inspiration from images of native peoples, tiered rice paddies, and bustling marketplaces. These artists captured a very specific image of Bali, promoting a romantic vision of the island as a tropical utopia while capturing the sensuous nature of its people.

With the decolonization of Indonesia in 1949, more opportunities for local artists to study and travel abroad became available, contributing to a local flourishing of contemporary Indonesian art. Anak Agung Gede Sobrat, born in Ubud, Bali, studied with Walter Spies and Rudolf Bonnet, eventually teaching at the Academy of Fine Arts in Yogyakarta where he continued to paint detailed depictions of the people and street scenes that he grew up with. Yet for many Indonesian artists who had grown up in Java, Balinese culture with its emphasis on Hinduism was just as foreign and exotic to them as it had been to the Westerners that arrived during the colonial period. Indonesian artists Abdul Aziz and Kho Kiem Bing were both born in the neighbouring island of Java, and travelled to Bali after studying Western oil painting. Their works capture an intimate view of Balinese culture, placing greater emphasis on the architecture and traditions that differentiate Bali from the rest of Indonesia. Among the Indonesian artists that found inspiration on Bali, Hendra Gunawan may be one of the most iconic. A pioneer of Indonesian modernism, Gunawan combined Western techniques and Indonesian imagery in his depictions of Balinese ritual festivals and women. In Temple Procession (Lot 441), Gunawan has elected to use a vertical format to lead the viewer's gaze upward, where women wearing bright kebaya and sarongs balance masks on their head and carry gebogan – piled offerings of fruit and leaves unique to Balinese rituals. Like Gunawan's Melasti, the work captures the vibrant energy of a traditional festival, painted in detail from the perspective of a formal observer.

Bali and its people have been the subject of countless paintings and sketches, yet every work captures a different facet of and perspective towards the island nation and its people. Through the eyes of these artists we see an island paradise populated by beautiful nubile women, bustling local marketplaces, and raucous Hindu ceremonies, but in the quiet portraits we also get a glimpse of the individuals that live on the island, and the reality of their daily lives amidst the beauty and exoticism that permeates many depictions of Bali. As a destination that continues to draw visitors and tourists today, the following works offer a glimpse into the eyes and lives of both visitors and locals alike, presenting a record of the inspiration that Bali has provided over the ages.

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