An introduction to two rare works by Antoine Payen
By Dr. Marie-Odette Scalliet
The artist, Antoine Payen was born in Brussels, Belgium, in 1792. Growing up in a family of architects (his father, Auguste, and uncle, Antoine were both architects), Payen began his training in architecture and landscape painting from a young age.
Dividing his time between Brussels and Doornik (Tournai), Payen received instruction from the neo-classical architect Bruno Renard (1781 - 1860) and a renowned Romantic landscape artist of the Southern Netherlands, Henri van Assche (1744 - 1841).
In 1813, while Payen was in Brussels, he won the Encouragement Award for his architectural design in a competition organised by the Societe des Beaux-Arts of Brussels. Two years later, at the Exhibition by Living Masters, Payen was awarded the Gold Medal for landscape painting.
In the spring of 1816, with these accolades under his belt, the young Payen soon found employment as a draughtsman and architect with the municipality of Brussels. No sooner had he found the job; he received a commission to paint in the Dutch East Indies. Payen was appointed, by Royal Decree, to become "a painter employed by the Nation in its East Indies territories, where he [was] to work under the direct supervision of Professor C.G.C Reinwardt'".
The February of the following year, Payen left for Indonesia from Flushing (Vlissingen) in The Netherlands and arrived at Batavia seven months later. At the invitation of the Governer-General G.A.G.P, the Baron van der Capellen, Payen went to Bogor (Buitenzorg) and settled at the palace. It was there that Payen met Reinwardt and became acquainted with his fellow governmental draughtsmen, Jan & Theodoor Bik.
With his architectural background, Payen soon became involved with the restoration and re-construction of the Bogar Palace. The beautiful English landscape garden is his contribution to the palace, while Reinwardt laid plans for the famous Botanical Gardens (Kebun Raya) which still stands today.
At the beginning of 1822, Payen moved to Bandung, and set up residence there, where he was to remain until his return to Brussels in 1826.
Antoine Payen occupies a special place in Dutch-Indonesian history. Being on the payroll of the government, he was not only assured a stable income, but also given the liberty to travel extensively in search for the most 'picturesque scenery characteristic of the land', as King William I was predisposed towards large and grandiose landscape paintings of the colonies.
Throughout his travels, Payen made many detailed sketches, drawings, and oil studies that would serve as models for his large studio compositions after his return to Europe.
With the eruption of Gunung Guntur in 1818, he was able to explore the inner territories of the mountainous Priangan region, wherein lies the heart of the Sunda countries. In 1819, he returned there with Reinwardt on a yearlong scientific expedition, though that was to be the last of his travels with Reinwardt.
At the end of 1820, Payen undertook yet another expedition to the southern part of the Priangan region, almost at the Indian Ocean. It was during this journey that we learn of his friendship with Raden Saleh (1811 - 1880), who became his pupil, and whom became the famed Indonesian artist. There survive two letters addressed to Reinwardt - one from Payen praising the young Saleh's sketches, and another by the young man himself - indicating that Payen already knew Saleh and had taken him under his wing.
It is speculated that, Raden Saleh, the nephew of the Regent of Semarang, came to Bogor sometime between the end of 1819 and mid-1820. In 1820, when Payen moved to Bandung, he took Saleh with him and it was where Saleh remained, under his tutelage until Payen's departure back to Europe.
Towards the end of 1823, Payen left the familiar surrounds of West Java for the first time, and began to explore Central- and East-Java, Banyuwangi and Madura. In 1824, he also accompanied the Governor-General to the Mollucas, Makassar and the Minahassa countries in North Sulawesi.
Indonesia's famed sites were not immune to Payen's explorations. In 1825, he returned to Central-Java, this time visiting the Borobudur, and Sukuh, amongst others.
His final journey through Java was plagued by tumultuous events. Sent by the Governor-General to Yogyakarta to construct plans for the reconstruction of the house of the Resident, and to oversee the work, Payen was soon caught amidst the eruption of the Java War in July, 1825. Fortunately, he was able to flee the besieged city three months later.
Back in Bandung, Payen was granted passage back to Europe and left Java for good on the 19th of February, 1826. Before he left, he made sure his protege and good friend Saleh would find employment at the Residency Office in Cianjur. Mentor and apprentice would be reunited in Brussels in 1829, where that would mark a turning point in Saleh's career and development as an artist.
Payen's stay in Indonesia was by no means his most productive nor prolific period, having only completed five out of the 34 - hitherto known - paintings. Yet he returned to Europe with a treasure trove of sketches, drawings, and oil studies, on paper and canvas. In Brussels, and later Doornik, he devoted himself to the accomplishment of the series of scenes of Indonesia, for which he was appointed 'Government Painter' in 1816.
Payen's meticulous list of sketches and studies, coupled with the diaries he kept while in Indonesia provide accurate records of his production. By means of this unique combination of visual and written resources, it has become possible to identify his work even without the presence of a signature.
His folios and sketches now reside in the National Museum of Ethnology (Leiden, The Netherlands) as are the majority of his studio paintings completed between 1818 and 1853. His other works are on loan at various Dutch public institutions.
Payen spent the remainder of his life teaching drawing at the Municipal Academy of Arts in Doornik, Belgium, where he died in 1853.
Marie-Odette Scalliet, Antoine Payen: peintre des Indes orientales: vies et ecrits d'un artiste du XIXe siecle (1792-1853), Leiden, 1995.
Marie-Odette Scalliet, Koos van Brakel, a.o., Pictures from the Tropics: Paintings by Western Artists during the Dutch Colonial Period in Indonesia, Amsterdam, 1999, pp. 47-57 (Payen), pp. 57-65, pp. 98-100 (Raden Saleh).