Bali - Tropical Paradise Invented
The island of Bali in Indonesia has long enjoyed an image of being one of the world's most steeply cultured and artistically vibrant places. In the 1930s, artists and anthropologists alike who spent time in Bali perpetuated accounts of the island and its people, which led to an image in America and Europe of Bali as "an enchanted land of aesthetes at peace with themselves and nature." Miguel Covarrubias, whose landmark Island of Bali book narrated in stimulating details and presented iconic images of life in Bali, is represented in this sale by the rare Map of Bali with the Rose of the Winds (Lot 707), the only Balinese map work of the artist to have come to market. Le Mayeur, whose paintings and drawings of his artistic muse and wife Ni Pollok - for instance, At the Loom (Lot 694) and Portrait of Ni Pollok Weaving (Lot 700) and Portrait of Ni Pollok (Lot 701) - created irrespressibly memorable images of Balinese life interwoven with high culture, and his works influenced later generations of artists in the Southeast Asian region through his exhibitions in Singapore in 1933, 1937 and 1941.
Of the many western artists who have sought out Bali, two are particularly notable in history for having contributed to alignment of Balinese art with western art. The Russia-born German Walter Spies and Dutch Rudolf Bonnet discovered upon their arrival in Bali that local artists were extremely talented in artistic pursuits. Along with two Balinese princes, they created an artist's association called Pita Maha to impart western art techniques to Balinese artists, and encouraged them to paint scenes of daily life, festivals and dance performances. Pita Maha organized exhibitions in Java and outside Indonesia, and for the first time individual artists came to be recognized, and to sign their paintings. From the artistic seeds planted by this group, art activity increased in both quantity and quality, only to be disrupted by World War II. The association was central to raising consciousness of art as a modern pursuit in Bali, linked to but at the same time distinct from cultural life.
After World War II, the traditions of Pita Maha was continued with artists in Ubud, comprising of Balinese and non-Balinese artists such as Affandi - The Leak (Lot 691), Srihadi Soedarsono - Tari Kebyar (Kebyar Dance) (Lot 689), Arie Smit- Moonlit Night (Lot 708) and Pura (Lot 709), and Antonio Blanco- Ni Ronji (Lot 702). Joining them were artists like Lee Man Fong who extended his repertoire of Javanese subjects to include paintings of Balinese beauties - Balinese Beauty (Lot 698) and Balinese Weaving Girl (Lot 699).
As with many ethnic Balinese artists, the practice of art as an independent pursuit of itself was a foreign concept. Instead, art is seen as inseparable from cultural life. For traditional Balinese artists like Anak Agung Gede Sobrat, whose A Dancer and a Gamelan Orchestra (Lot 690) is presented in this sale, the acquisition of western art techniques took place only when he joined the Pita Maha group and learnt under Rudolf Bonnet and Walter Spies. His best known works include images of Balinese dance, market scenes and village life, although he was also an accomplished wayang kulit (traditional shadow puppetry) maker.
The collection of more than 20 pictures in this sale of various aspects of life in Bali spans the wide range of inspiration artists across nationalities and eras came to find in Bali.