"For Locatelli there are no problems beyond the beauty of the abundance of life. One will find no depth and metaphysical ideas in his work. In a spontaneous manner he reveals the beauty of the body and nature. Here there is no sadness and sorrow that are shown, but their opposite, the beauty and happiness of the world. Here are no complicated voices from a mysterious psyche but here is presented pure pleasure of the senses." (Erminia Locatelli Rogers, Romualdo Locatelli - The ultimate voyage of an Italian artist in the Far East, Darga Fine Arts Editions, Jakarta, 1994, p. 166.).
V.N. De Javabode penned this observation of the work of Locatelli on 5 May 1939, prior to the artist's exhibition in Bandung (3 June - 11 June 1939). To a large extent, these words are apt descriptions for most of the European artists travelling and settling in the Dutch East Indies during the first quarter of the 20th century. Be it Le Mayeur's impressionistic renditions of the graceful movements of the Legong dancers or the stylised Balinese girls by Miguel Covarrubias, these artists expressed their bewilderment of a foreign land and a strange culture through paint and brush. A bewilderment that is primarily an overwhelming of the senses.
"I asked Aldo (Locatelli) about the large nude painting of Tigah. "How would you describe Tigah's beauty?"
"It's easy," he replied, "just looked at her slender arms and long legs, her delicate hands and feet, her body so glamorous like that of one used to dance training. Her expressive eyes, small nose, a full mouth, her hair so think and glossy, she is like a Goddess. Her golden brown skin, so tanned by the sun, looks like velvet. I would call her very beautiful." (Ibid. p. 43)
As a graduate from the Carrara Art Academy in Bergamo (Italy), it was natural for Locatelli to demonstrate in his work a vigorous training in Italian portraiture which was much noted for its perspectives as well as a sensitivity to the use of light and shadow. However, working in the beginning of the 20th century, it was inevitable for the artist to be exposed to impressionism that he usually expressed through his spontaneous and deft brush strokes.
In the present work, the interaction of light and shadow is subtly highlighted with the placement of the white Frangipani. As the tender flower contrasts with the general sober tone of the work, it serves as a limelight that accentuates the tender beauty of the young sitter. Comparing with another work that was painted in the same year, the present lot shares a same maturity in techniques as well as the preoccupation in capturing the physical beauty of the sitter.
The 'Indonesian period' of the artist's career was very brief and it began in 1938 and was abruptly cut short with the outbreak of the Second World War when both the artist and his wife had to move to the Philippines. The settlement in the Philippines would prove to be tragic. The artist would lose most of is works (estimated to be 75) as they were destroyed by the fire during the bombing of Manila by the Japanese and it was in the Philippines, where the artist would make his mysterious disappearance on 23rd February 1943.
In the light of these events, one can appreciate any surviving Indonesian works of the artist are not merely a testimony of Locatelli's artistic talents but a rare memento from a time when the Dutch East Indies was known by the European artists as a land of demons and goddess. In brief, a heaven after their disappointment with Gauguin's Tahiti.