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Works of exotic tropical subjects at Sotheby’s Auction of South East Asian Paintings (September 17, 2004)

Willem Hofker, Tjawan and Sadri.

A total of 238 paintings and works of art, estimated to fetch in excess of S$5 million, will be offered at Sotheby's Autumn auction of South East Asian Paintings on Sunday, October 10 at The Regent Singapore. Tropical landscapes, cultural activities and portraitures are but some of the works by Singaporean, Indonesian, Filipino, Vietnamese and European artists represented in this auction.

The first half of the twentieth century was an exciting time for Western artists in Indonesia. Many of these individuals saw their art developed in interesting directions as a result of their contact and experience with Indonesian culture. A section of the sale is devoted to works by western artists who travelled afar to the exotic islands and were spellbounded.

Dutch artist Willem Hofker was immediately mesmerized by the physical beauty of the Balinese when he set foot in the islands in 1938. He was overwhelmed by the talent of little children for channeling an enormous store of culture, grace and divine-like inspiration into the the expression of his art. Tjawan and Sadri is a rare oil painting by Hofker with two young dancers juxtaposed on the same canvas (Lot 48, estimate: S$250,000-350,000). Both girls were the artist's frequent subject matters but seldom were they placed together. Hofker added an enigmatic psychological dynamic which stressed the individual characters even though both dancers were in costumes.

Miguel Covarrubias, a renowned caricaturist back in Mexico, was freed from his own style and adapted to more expressive sentivities in this works after he visited Bali n the 1930s. Balinesa depicts a Balinese woman in her most ordinary form in her daily life ritual, yet in the hands of the artist, appears as if she was deified as a divine goddess. A watercolor executed in pointillist style, this work epitomizes Covarrubias' forays into painting, informed by his fascination with primitive and ethnic art forms, his mastery of line drawing and geometric forms, which captured the excitement and understatement of modernism then (Lot 38, estimate: S$150,000-200,000).

Balinese culture and people also made profound impact in works by Swiss artist Theo Meier and Dutch artist Isaac Israel. Vivid colours such as red and yellow dominated Meier’s canvases as vehicle of emotions, spirit and primal elements as seen in his Garuda Dance, Balinese Girl and Balinese Nudes (Lots 7-9). Isaac Israel observed the Javanese courts and festivities as an outsider. Portrait of a Javanese Prince expresses the artist’s fascination with the restrained elegance of the people at court and a sense of privileged seclusion and quiet refinement permeates his canvas (Lot 28, estimate: S$80,000-120,000).

Filipino paintings by old masters to new contemporary artists are represented in the auction. Steel Mills by old master Juan Luna (Lot 98, estimate: S$450,000-650,000) defines the hard life of the working class. The dark broad strokes echo the hard coarse lives of blue collar workers. Traditionalist Fernando Amorsolo also painted the working class but defined his ideals with delightful faces and palettes as Market at the Cockpit and Bathing by the Stream. Gleaners by Anita Magsaysay-Ho, who was fascinated by working women, reflected the artist’s departure from traditional painterly style to modernistic approach with colours and forms (Lot 88, estimate: S$120,000-180,000).

Works of much acclaimed Singaporean artist Lee Man Fong are characterized by their misty, sepia toned environment glowed with diffuse sunlight. Light is of prime importance in Lee’s works and his subject matters are often bathed in a luminous glow. Pigeons, Horses, Cockatoos and Goldfishes (Lots 150-153) all transpired similar effect with the subjects painted in realistic manner against a flat, atmospheric background painted in expressionistic style. These compositions display a balance between void and substance, light and darkness, bright colours and subdued tones.

Indonesian artists Hendra Gunawan and Affandi both cultivated an individual style that emphasized the reality experience and the freedom on the brush. Batik Seller by Gunawan, known for his colourful compositions imbued with a fantasy element, epitomizes the artist’s magical ability to turn a daily life scene into a mystical theatrical experience. Painted while in prison, Gunawan turned dreary reality of the poor making a living to uplifting dream of hope and love (Lot 167, estimate: S$120,000-150,000). Affandi expressed his artistic energy through immediate virtuoso lines. Self Portrait, painted directly on canvas with his bare hands, was drawn with unique syncopated and rhythmic lines which expressively display the artist’s emotions and impulses (Lot 157, estimate: S$80,000-150,000).

Exceptional Vietnamese paintings of historical and artistic importance such as Le Pho’s Nude and Nguyen Phan Chanh’s Procession are represented in this auction. Nude was a truly rare subject matter in Vietnamese paintings as it was inconceivable to the Confucian mindset. Le Pho’s will to break with the past was shown in his rendition of the naked woman (Lot 127, estimate: S$120,000-150,000). Phan Chanh’s Procession was painted during a time of political unrest in France and Vietnam, a French colony. Freedom was underway, the modern Vietnam was waking and to glorify this modernism full of optimism, the artist depicted a moving crowd in discreet yet resolute expressions (Lot 120, estimate: S$150,000-200,000).

Auction of South East Asian Paintings:
Sunday, October 10, 10am at The Royal Pavilion Ballroom, The Regent Singapore

Exhibition opens on 8-9 October, 10.30am – 7pm at the same venue

Public enquiries: 65 6732 8239

Press enquiries:
Kaye Shu Sotheby’s Hong Kong t. 852 2822 8140 kaye.shu@sothebys.com
Doreen Yong Sotheby’s Singapore t. 65 6732 8239 doreen.yong@sothebys.com


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