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Javanese Artist Raden Saleh Painting to be Offered at Christie’s Auction in Hong Kong

An extremely rare work by the celebrated 19th century Javanese artist Raden Sarief Bustaman Saleh will lead the sale of Christie’s Southeast Asian Modern and Contemporary Art in Hong Kong on 30 May. Titled “Javanese Landscape, with Tigers Listening to the Sound of a Travelling Group” (estimate: HK$10,000,000 – 14,000,000 /US$1,282,000 – 1,795,000), this extraordinary work has an impeccable provenance dating back to 1849, when the artist gave this painting to his patron His Highness Ernest II, Duke and ruler of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, and brother to Prince Albert, the husband of Queen Victoria. Over the next 156 years, the work was with the Saxe-Coburg and Gotha family and in a private European collection until 2005.

In 2005 the painting was offered at auction but was withdrawn due to its similarities to another work attributed to Raden Saleh that had sold in 1999. The work sold in 1999 presented a broadly similar composition but with marked differences, especially in the execution of the foreground and inscribed with the artist’s name incorrectly spelt ‘Raden Salh’. Subsequently a ‘Raden Saleh Colloquium’ was held to compare the two works, conducted in London in two sessions in 2008 and 2009, under an independent legal arbitrator. Both sessions reaffirmed the authenticity of this current lot and that it was painted by the artist in Dresden in 1849.

As works by Raden Saleh are rarely offered at auction, this particular masterpiece, with its proven authenticity and royal lineage, offers international collectors an opportunity not to be missed. This painting will be unveiled for the first time in many years at Christie’s Preview of Southeast Asian Modern & Contemporary Art on 30 April 2010 at ARTSPACE@Helutrans, Singapore.

A 19th century artistic phenomenon
Raden Sarief Bustaman Saleh was the first Javanese artist to have followed his calling to Europe and to paint in the Western style. Born an aristocrat, he was the cousin of the Regent of Semarang in Indonesia and was recognised for his artistic gift at an early age, learning under the tutelage of the government landscape painter Antoine Payen. When Payen returned to Europe in 1826, the young Javanese artist joined him three years later to learn under his tutelage. Raden Saleh lived in The Hague under the protection of the Dutch government until he took a long educational tour to Germany and France, spending most of his time in Dresden and Coburg and Paris, travelling extensively to other places such as Scotland, England and Switzerland. In particular, his life-long friendship with Ernest II (1818-1893), Duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, brother-in-law to Queen Victoria, was crucial to his career where this highly educated and distinguished Javanese aristocrat was introduced to members of the European courts and prominent intellectuals and artists of the time. Known for his wonderful versatility and talent, he was best known as one of the greatest orientalist painters in his days, famed for his paintings of wild and ferocious animals.

“Javanese Landscape, with Tigers Listening to the Sound of a Travelling Group” was completed by Raden Saleh in Dresden, the cultural centre of Saxony, and presented to his patron and friend His Highness Ernest II, Duke of Saxe- Coburg and Gotha, in 1849. The painting was in the family for many years as it was inherited by the second son, grandson and great-grandson of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert.

Artistic genius
Conceived in the tradition of the romantic historical landscape, “Javanese Landscape, with Tigers Listening to the Sound of a Travelling Group” is an intriguing masterpiece among Raden Saleh’s works during his long and prolific career. Bathed in a serene golden tropical light, the painting depicts travellers in the countryside near Borobudur, oblivious to two tigers which are poised in anticipation behind thick vegetation. The dog and the horse, traditionally Man’s best friends, are shown being acutely aware of the tigers. The enigmatic scene is quite unusual among Raden Saleh’s works, which often depict hunting scenes and wild animals attacking horsemen and their mounts.

This magnificent painting was much treasured by Ernest II, who not only bestowed the honour of the badge of “Sachsisch- Ernestisches Hausorden” on Raden Saleh upon receiving this gift, but also chose to exhibit this work at the 1849 exhibition of art at the Royal Saxonian Academy of Arts in Dresden, and at the great International Colonial and Export Trade Exhibition in Amsterdam in 1883, three years after Raden Saleh’s death. Interestingly, this painting was not lithographed as were some of the artist’s other paintings, and no photographs were ever published by its owners. Information on his artistic production was also incomplete. The rediscovery of this fully signed and dated painting only took place in recent years.

Image: Raden Saleh (Indonesia, circa 1810 – 1880),”Javanese Landscape, with Tigers Listening to the Sound of a Travelling Group”, signed and dated “Raden Saleh/1849” (lower right) oil on canvas, 44 x 61 ½ in (112 x 156.5 cm) Estimate: HK$10,000,000 – 14,000,000 (US$1,282,000 – 1,795,000. Photo: Christie’s Images Ltd., 2010