Raden Saleh was preoccupied with painting wild animals ever since he attended a circus performance at Henri Martin's circus in The Hague in 1836. The possibility to study these animals within the safe confines of the circus undoubtedly contributed to the painter's further artistic development.
In a letter adressed to Baron van de Capellen dated 8 October 1837, Raden Saleh's maecenas M.E. Verstege alludes to the painter's budding artistic ambitions:"Hij wil vrij zijn en ongedwongen, onbelemmerd de onderwerpen die in zijn ziel oprijzen ten uitvoer brengen". (op. cit. Alg. Rijksarchief, The Hague, archive J.C. Baud, no 555. transl. as: "he wants to be free and unconstrained, to create unobstructed subjects that rise from his soul"), as well as to his new sources of inspiration:"... de wilde dynamische krachten van het machtige dier in het oerwoud, de heroïek van het snelle, steigerende paard". (ibid. transl. as: "... the savage dynamic forces of the mighty wild animal;
the heroism of the swift, prancing horse".)
After returning to Holland in 1830, Raden Saleh studied under the
tutelage of Cornelis Kruseman and Andreas Schelfhout and devoted
himself mainly to painting portraits and landscapes. Raden Saleh's
striking portraits were already very much sought after during his life and ordered by amongst others Dutch nobility and the government. The
artist's landscapes soon matched the work of the highly respected
Schelfhout, but reflected an apparent discontent with the traditional
and tempered Dutch Romanticism at the same time.
Raden Saleh felt himself drawn to the more flamboyant and authentic
French and German Romanticism and started his search for artistic
expression of heroïsm and drama, mythology or Biblical history. Raden Saleh had few chances of becoming a history painter according to Western tradition. He nevertheless
finished a monumental painting of Daniel in the Lion's Den in 1837. To his maecenas' great indignation, Raden Saleh spent a lot of money
creating a suitable and above all inspiring atmosphere to work in.
Books, sculptures, stuffed animals and prints were bought by the artist at great expense. It is very tempting to assume the artist at this time possessed prints such as Lion d'Atlas by Delacroix and hunting
scenes by Rubens. By order of the Dutch government Raden Saleh
was given an allowance to visit various art collections in
different European cities. The painter successively visited
Düsseldorf, Frankfurt and Berlin in the spring of 1839. The Dutch
foreign service located his whereabouts after more than a year. Just like Delacroix, Raden Saleh enjoyed painting horses enormously. The Romantics regarded the horses as the embodiment of
power and passion, the romantic horse gallops, prances and is
constantly in motion. It is during this period that the first hunting
scenes with lions and tigers attacking horses start to appear.
Paintings that emphasized action, turbulence, drama and heroïsm
expressed the ferocity of the wild animals and the fear of the horses. Raden Saleh depicted the animal's skin with great skill and accuracy,
thus giving the image extra dynamism. Paintings with Javanese buffalo hunts or oriental lion hunts as the subject-matter were very popular in Germany. In a letter to the Secretary of Colonial Affairs J.C. Baud,
Raden Saleh explains why wildlife- and oriental hunting scenes will constitute his main subject matter: "Sebap im kampf en gevecht, orang darie Europa djarang jang bisa bikin sebap da lain dia poenja ingettan djadie saja ada oentoeng, sebap saja orang darie Aziea" (op. cit. Alg. Rijksarchief, colonial archives, letter to J.C. Baud, undated, probably late 1840, transl. as "Hunting themes are scarcely depicted by European painters because they are not in accordance with their nature. As an Asiatic that is my good fortune").
In a letter dated 17 June 1844 Raden Saleh mentioned the sale
of two paintings to A.H. Schletter, a silk trader and art collector
from Leipzig, for 200 Louis d'Ors. One being a bull hunt, now in the
Leipzig Museum für Bildende Kunste, the other Raden Saleh described
as "Satoe orang Arab (Bedoeinen) naek koeda satoe singa tangkep sama
diea" (ibid.). Dr Werner Kraus identifies the above described as the present lot in a letter to the present owner dating 22 September 1997.
As Raden Saleh visited Munich in 1845 it is most likely that he saw
Rubens' Lion Hunt. Rubens' combat scenes with wild animals totally captured the Romantic imagination. It is known that Delacroix,
one of the undisputed leaders of the Romantic movement in Europe,
sought inspiration for his exotic works in prints after Rubens and in
the verses of the famous Romantic poet Lord Byron. Raden Saleh may have identified himself with Eugène Delacroix's unconventional attitude towards social and aesthetic traditions. After losing his good friend
Ernst I, Raden Saleh, embarked on his Paris period, where he was given the opportunity to work in Horace Vernet's studio. It remains uncertain whether Raden Saleh eventually joined Vernet, who was commissioned to decorate the Musée National de Versailles with North African combat scenes, to Algiers. The fact however that the present lot is to be
dated to his Dresden period proves that Raden Saleh was already
familiar with at least one of Horace Vernet's most famous compositions titled mazeppa and based on Lord Byron's epic poem.
The hero in Byron's poem is tied to a horse and then driven into the
wilderness. Vernet chose to illustrate the moment that the man and
horse are attacked by a wolf. The similarities with the present lot are striking: the interaction between the wild animals and the man on
horseback as well as the central positioning of the group and the appearance of the horse are nearly identical. A preparatory drawing for the present lot signed in full and dated 18 March 1842, is kept in the Kupferstich Kabinett, Dresden, supports the above theory. The human figure is left out in this sketch and depicts only the grey horse
attacked by a lion. This drawing is the mirrored composition of the
present lot, and stands even nearer to Vernet's mazeppa, as the
horse is placed in the identical position.
Raden Saleh's motif of the attacked Arab horseman, who shoots the
predator at close range with a long pistol and at the same time falls
into an abyss, seems to illustrate what Lord Byron described as The
Last Embrace of Foes. From 1845 until his return to Holland in 1845, Raden Saleh rented a large studio in Paris at the expense of the Dutch government in which he could paint the unrestrained dynamic power of the wild animal. And for these canvases he indeed needed space. It is during this period that the artist created his most brilliant representations of combat
scenes such as the monumental deerhunt from 1846, the
equally large On life and death from 1848 (destroyed by fire in the Colonial Exhibition in Paris in 1931) and the Buffalo hunt from
1851. The compositions of hunting-scenes with wild animals, which
originate from both the Dresden and Paris periods form the nucleus of
Raden Saleh's work.
The present lot compares to the large canvases from the Paris period, regarding the grand composition and its heroic
and spectacular subject matter. The lion hunt has been painted
according to the Romantic tradition and is inspired by the same forces that played a part in Delacroix' and Vernet's Orientalism.
A copy of a letter of authenticity by Dr. Werner Kraus is available to the prospectine buyer as well as a copy of a letter of authenticity
dated 28 October 1996 by Prof. Dr. Hans Joachim Neidhardt.
Drs Bruce van Rijk kindly confirmed the authenticity of the present lot, as did Drs W. Rappard of the RKD, The Hague, on the basis of a transparency.