The drawing of Bonnet bears the title Devi Sita, the wife of King Rama from the story of the Ramayana.
It is not clear when this exceptional drawing by Rudolf Bonnet was first acquired by Roland van den Burg (1930 – 2019), but it was displayed at his home in Brussels in a photograph dated May 1977. Roland van den Berg was stationed at the Dutch embassy in Jakarta from 1969 to 1973 and served as the head of Cultural and Press affairs. It was in his capacity as cultural attaché that he would have met Rudolf Bonnet during one of his last trips to Indonesia. This drawing could have been purchased during his service in Jakarta. After serving in Indonesia, Roland van den Berg became the Ambassador to China, a country where he had once lived, as his father Jan van den Berg was stationed in Chongqing, China during the prewar period of the 1940’s.
Rudolf Bonnet (1895 – 1978) first came to Bali in 1929, at the suggestion of W.O.J Nieuwenkamp after the two met in Italy. In Bali, Rudolf Bonnet was pleasantly surprised that he could easily find models to sit for his drawings. It was in 1933 that Rudolf Bonnet made his famous drawing, Arjuna Wiwaha, now in the collection of the Neka Museum in Ubud, Bali. That drawing was so iconic that it was reproduced on the front cover of the booklet for the Rudolf Bonnet Foundation. It is clear that the present drawing, although illustrating a different story, is of the same model as the female character in his 1933 drawing of Arjuna Wiwaha. The resemblance is uncanny.
In the present lot, Devi Sita is posed alone and becomes the center of attention. Her golden crown and long hair are adorned with frangipani petals and she is dressed in a royal robe matching her beauty. Bonnet noted that this scene was taken from a performance of “Wayang Wong” in the Village of Mas, near Ubud. Wayang Wong is a Javanese dance enacting the drama taken either from the Indian epic Mahabharata or Ramayana. In this drawing Sita is portrayed as a pensive and graceful Queen, as opposed to the portrayal of Suprabha seducing Arjuna in meditation in the 1933 drawing.
Bonnet drew other versions of Arjuna in meditation in 1953 and 1975, but without the inclusion of the Aspara Suprabha. The uncanny resemblance provides evidence that Bonnet used the same model for Devi Sita, and furthermore, the present lot is unique because it is the only drawing known by Bonnet that depicts Sita as the reincarnation of Suprabha.
Arjuna Wiwaha (1933): Aspara Suprabha (left) seducing Arjuna (right) in meditation
Collection of the Neka Museum, Ubud – Bali.
Introduction to Srihadi Soedarsono’s Two Landscapes at Keukenhof
These two lots were displayed at a solo exhibition by Srihadi Soedarsono at the Jakarta Art Center in 1978. Ajip Rosidi, head of the Jakarta Art Center wrote: “Srihadi Soedarsono always offered his latest creation and invention in paintings at every exhibition … and there would always be a surprise!”.
Srihadi Soedarsono was born in Solo in 1931. He studied at the Bandung Institute of Technology from 1952 to 1959, where he learned modernism as well as western art tradition and techniques from Ries Mulder, a lecturer at the time. In 1962, Srihadi completed his Master of Arts at the Ohio State University in the United States. It was there, that he became fascinated with the works of Mark Rothko (1903 – 1970), especially his use of color to exude, project and convey emotions. In the present lots, Rothko’s influence is refined and combined with Srihadi’s Javanese background and philosophy of looking for perfection. In Srihadi’s own words: “I try to reach infinity … and … it is with color that I get closer or farther with what I feel and watch.”
Srihadi’s wife Farida Soedarsono studied at the famous Gerrit Rietveldt Kunstacademie in Amsterdam from 1976 to 1978 and it was during this time that Srihadi visited Keukenhof and eternalized the landscape of tulips into the two paintings offered here (lots 87 – 88).
These two paintings were part of his early exploration of horizons, the infinity of distance, and the limits and the essence of landscape. They also reflect his newfound interest in Zen meditation. He remarks that “my paintings are not landscapes. I am not interested in painting landscapes and never have been.” Instead, he absorbed the beauty of the landscape, the expansive vistas of multicolor beds of the tulip gardens at Keukenhof, and in search of simplicity, he extracted the peace and harmony, the anguish and vigor of the wind and displayed them in blocks of colors, reminiscent of Rothko.
In the first painting (Lot 87) the beds of tulips are represented by horizontal bands of colors: dominated by red, purple and cream, with yellow and orange lines at the horizon. Purple would become one of his favorite colors.
In the second painting (Lot 88), the entire bottom half of the landscape of tulips is dominated by bands of different shades of green. Again, as the distance approaches infinity, the bands compress into two thick lines of orange with a windmill at the horizon.
The owner of these paintings was working at the Dutch embassy in Jakarta when he purchased these remarkable masterpieces, keeping the pricelist accompanying the exhibition as documentation.
These rare and powerful paintings present a rare opportunity to own museum quality works that document and convey the artistic journey and achievements of this inspiring Indonesian master; in his search of unity between man and the universe.
Introduction to the Collection of Joop Steenbeek (1919 – 2013)
LOTS 4492 – 4499
Rudolf Bonnet (1895 – 1978) and Walter Spies (1895 – 1942) are often credited as the two foreign artists who introduced modernism and caused the explosion of creativity that revolutionized Balinese Art. This artistic transformation was first recognized in the late 1920s, peaked in the mid 1930s and went on well into the late 1930s or even the early 1940s, up until the Japanese Occupation in 1942.
The Pita Maha Artist’s Association was founded in 1936 by Bonnet, Spies, the members of royal houses of Ubud and Peliatan, and the artist, I Goesti Njoman Lempad (c. 1862 – 1978) in order to further promote the development of modern Balinese Art. After Spies died in 1942 and the abandonment of Pita Maha in 1940, Bonnet carried on this effort and pursued the establishment of the first art museum in Bali, the Museum Puri Lukisan in 1956.
Lempad, Bonnet and Tjokorda Gde Agung Sukawati all died close together in time, and in fact, Bonnet’s ashes were brought to Bali and re-cremated at the royal cremation ceremony of his friend, the last King of Ubud, Tjokorda Gde Agung Sukawati (1910 – 1978).
It was after this cremation ceremony that Flip Hammers, Joop Steenbeek (1919 – 2013) and Zweder Schoute met with the Batuan artists, who asked them for help to continue Bonnet’s efforts and dream to support them. During this meeting, they conceived the idea for the Rudolf Bonnet Foundation (Stichting Rudolf Bonnet), which was established in 1982 with founding members Flip Hammers as the chairman, Joop Steenbeek as the secretary and Zweder Schoute as the treasurer.
From 1980 to 1982 they collected donations from the friends of Bonnet to purchase paintings from Batuan and other regions of Bali with the idea of mounting an exhibition in the Netherlands and selling the works of art during the exhibition. The Bonnet foundation continued to promote and sell Balinese paintings in the Netherlands. In Bali, they worked with I Wayan Radjin (1945 – 2000) and Anak Agung Ngurah Muning (b. circa 1930), curator of the Museum Puri Lukisan who helped the foundation to find, select and recommend paintings to be exhibited in the Netherlands. Muning was well acquainted with Bonnet and worked with him from before the opening of the Museum in 1956.
The Joop Steenbeek collection of about sixty-two drawings is a time capsule, recording the state of the Batuan painting tradition in the early 1980s, just after the death of Bonnet, their main patron. Marijke Steenbeek recounted how her father had collected these Balinese drawings:
“Both my father and Flip Hammers were great admirers of Balinese artists’ paintings. They were impressed by Rudolf Bonnet’s efforts to promote Balinese art. Joop visited various studios in Batuan and Ubud, which included among others, I Made Tubuh’s studio where he bought the gouache, ‘The Royal Cremation’. This intricate work marked the beginning of his Batuan art collection. During this same trip he also bought ‘The Island of Bali’, a gouache depicting the islanders’ day-to-day activities. Both this painting and ‘How the Pangolins became King of the Forest’, a beautifully painted fable, were painted by I Wayan Kabetan. Many other works soon followed, from artists such as I Made Djata (‘The Tooth Filing Ceremony’) , I Made Budi (‘Abimanyu Caught in the Act’), I Wayan Rajin (‘Lud Lud, The Magic Bird’) and two works made by one of the few female Balinese artists, I Gusti Ayu Natih Arimini, who is the sister of the equally-talented, I Gusti Ngurah Muryasa.”
There are gems among the Joop Steenbeek Collection including two rare and rather large drawings by I Wayan Kabetan (1931 – 2006): The Island of Bali (Lot 4494) and How the Pangolins became the King of the Forest (Lot 4492). While the “The island of Bali” depicts every-day life on the island, the second, interestingly, is based on a tantri story (fable), in which the ant-eating Pangolins call for a meeting, and surrounded by different animals, assume the role of King of the Jungle, and unite all the animals. This story is a metaphor about the courage of an unexpected and unassuming individual to unite others and take the lead for a common cause.
Two of the works (Lots 4498 and 4495) in the collection were done by key leaders of the Batuan painters: I Made Djata (1920 – 2001) and his son I Wayan Radjin (1945 – 2000. Djata and Radjin became teachers for many younger Batuan artists, including I Made Tubuh (b. 1942) [see Lots 4493 and 4497] and I Ketut Murtika (1952 – 2019), whose drawings are also represented in this collection. Djata emphasized the mastery of the Batuan technique that became the hallmark of the Djata School. Of paramount importance were the precision of the drawings, the composition and the color scheme, while innovation and originality were secondary.
Worth noting are two small drawings by I Wayan Bendi (1950 – 2020) offered on the 19 November auction. Bendi studied Batuan painting tradition with his father, I Taweng (1929 – 2004) and his uncle I Tomblos (1922 – 2009). As students of the Ngendon School, innovation and originality of composition and subject matter were their primary interest. During the early development of modern Balinese painting in the 1930s, Rudolf Bonnet, through the Pita Maha Artists’ Association, dictated that the Balinese artists paint idyllic life. They were discouraged from depicting the everyday life of the Balinese, as they experienced it during the colonial period and in the midst of the first wave of tourism into Bali. In these two drawings, Bendi went against this convention and included the activities of the tourists intermingled with the activities of the Balinese, a style that had been introduced by an older painter, I Made Budi (1932 – 2017).
The Legend of King Bedahulu
I Goesti Njoman Lempad (c. 1862 – 1978)
This rare composition by the most renowned of Balinese artists, I Goesti Njoman Lempad, tells the legend of King Bedahulu, who lived in the 14th Century. As the legend goes, the King lost his head during a meditation practice: his head disappearing to Heaven and his body being left behind. Witnessing this unexpected event, his prime minister, quickly slaughtered a pig and installed its head to replace the King’s head. When the King finished his meditation, he was furious, and from then on, he ordered no-one to look upwards at the King, lest they see his head.
This legend is popular among Balinese painters. The standard composition has an emissary attempting to verify that the King indeed has a pig’s head. During a banquet with the King, the envoy would take a water jug, and look upward to pour the water into his mouth, and so steal a glance at the King’s head. Another common depiction is for the envoy to look up, pretending to feed himself long beans.
In this masterpiece, Lempad chose to show the king in his chamber, accompanied by his royal female attendants. The king is sitting on his throne, holding a bow and an arrow, ready to kill anyone who would disobey his order to not look at him. The maids are on the floor bowing and looking down, their hands clasped together, paying homage to the king. Of particular note is that Lempad rarely made drawings with a triangular composition: only four such drawings are known to exist, and this is one of them.
Lempad is known for the fluidity of his line drawings, his master craftsmanship and his original compositions based on stories taken from the rich tradition of Balinese folklores and tales. This is an exemplary work from the 1930s. The drawing is adorned with gold and cinnabar. After 1945, it is known that his daughter, Ni Gusti Ayu Oka, helpied Lempad to finish his drawings. This makes the prewar drawings by Lempad, such as this, which are entirely done by his hand: rare, sought after and thus very valuable.
Lempad’s masterpiece drawings are in the collections of major Museums and Libraries around the world: including the United States, the Netherlands, Austria, Sweden, Croatia, Indonesia and Singapore. The majority of his prewar drawings are in the Margaret Mead Archives at the Library of Congress, Washington DC, USA; in the Potjewijd Collection at the World Museum in Vienna, Austria; in the Rolf de Mare Collection at the Dance Museum in Stockholm, Sweden; and in the collection of the Neka Museum in Ubud, Bali.
Soemantri Widagdo, Ph.D.
Co-author of “Lempad of Bali – the illuminating line” (2014)
Curator of the exhibition Illuminating Line: Master Drawings of I Gusti Nyoman Lempad,
Museum Puri Lukisan, Ubud, Bali (20 September – 24 November 2014)
 Jean Couteau and Farida Srihadi, “Srihadi Soedarsono – Man x Universe “ Afterhours, Jakarta (2020) pages 164 and 170.
 Personal communication with the artist on 20 September 2020.
 As recounted by Zweder Schoute at a meeting in leiden on 26 Feb 2019.