PRISTINE COLLECTION OF A GENTLEMAN, INDONESIA
Over the course of nearly fifty years, this Indonesian gentleman maintained a passionate devotion to both the master works as well as to the contemporary art of his time, ultimately creating one of the most impressive collections of 19th and 20th century Indonesian art ever assembled. What defined the collection was its intensely personal nature - the collector consistently made courageous choices, buying deeply challenging works which required not only conviction but knowledge and intuition.
The criteria for the selection are obvious. The collector will only select the best available pieces from the artists he collected. An effort was also made to encapsulate a comprehensive development of Indonesian art and to that effect, what is more befitting than to include the impressive oeuvre of the esteemed Raden Saleh, an artist considered as the first indigenous artist from the 19th century Dutch East Indies and one who celebrated the grandiose of his beloved Indonesian landscape in a romantic manner. Like the art historians who observed that the development of Indonesian art had come to an abrupt halt after the passing of Raden Saleh in 1880, only to enter into a period of unprecedented flowering of artistic creativity at the turn of the century, the collector too duly paid his homage with his ingenious selection of Adrien-Jean Le Mayeur's Two beauties on Tahitian beach and Walter Spies' The night festival in Djogja, both of which are highly representational of the flourishing creative community that congregated in Bali in the first quarter of the 20th century.
The choice of the works revealed a profound appreciation of the artists' career not to mention a remarkable confidence of the collector. Le Mayeur, a Belgian artist who made Bali his adopted home in the last stage of his life and career, is renowned for his glorious rendition of the tropical island. However, the collector included a non-Balinese work of the artist in his collection. This work from the Tahitian period revealed an unmistakable influence from Gauguin and more significantly, it traced the travels of Le Mayeur, testifying to a true spirit of a painter-traveller.
Walter Spies' The night festival in Djogja is another jewel in the crown, dated in 1926, this work is considered the missing jigsaw that linked the first artistic period of the artist in the Dutch East Indies to his later, better known works of Bali. Spies first arrived in Bandung, Java, in 1923 and he moved very shortly after to Yogyakarta where he took a job at the Sultan's Kraton as a director of music. In 1927, Spies asked the Sultan to relieve him of his duties and he moved to Bali where he settled until his abrupt death in 1942. It is therefore very likely that the present work is a last work of his Yogyakarta period.
If the works of Masters are the obvious choices for the collector due to its apparent artistic and historical importance, the gentleman also developed a taste for the most powerful and rewarding art of the 20th century Indonesia. As he began to turn his attention to a group of indigenous artists in the early 1950s, he made deep commitments to the artists who were believed to have made significant impact on Indonesian Modern Art. Amongst them, 4 artists stand out prominently in this collection, namely S. Sudjojono, Hendra Gunawan, Affandi and Lee Man Fong. These aesthetic choices also led to close personal friendships with the artists.
"Sudjojono proudly brought me the painting and told me that the title of the work is The indestructible desert. He then went into an eloquent explanation of the title, in the most typical Sudjojono way, all the time showing an overwhelming satisfaction with the finished work." (Interview with the collector, 21 March 2006.) The collector recalled the day when the work was shown to him by the artist and the work had consequently remained proudly in the same spot of his house for the next 2 decades. Anecdotes as such are many with this collection as the collector was deeply involved. If one is impressed with a whole wall of the collector's living room, adorned exclusively with the works of Lee Man Fong, one would also appreciate that the collector is always given the first choice with the artist's works. "Man Fong showed me 2 works, both of them were beautiful and fragile flowers, one is in red and the other in yellow, I picked The yellow allamanda which appealed to me more." (Interview with the collector, 21 March 2006.)
Hendra's languorous Reclining nude is another rare visual treat as the portrayal of an overtly sensuous sitter is arguably uncommon amongst the artist's extensive repertoire of Indonesian women. It is a selection as such that demonstrated the highly subjective judgment of the collector whose sole prerequisite for his collection was for the work to engage him intently.
It is with such passion and dedication that the collector built a house that was a sanctuary of art, a private, intimate setting that inspired everyone to contemplate the remarkable collection that filled the home to its seams.
It is an honour for Christie's to work with these 9 best works from a collection that was built over the last 5 decades and a privilege, we have come to realize after working with the collection closely for the catalogue, to be given an opportunity to trace and record a process of discerning choices that has lasted half a century.