'Self-Portrait' (1835) by Raden Saleh (Photo courtesy of Museum MACAN)

Five Career-Defining Paintings by Raden Saleh


MARCH 01, 2018

Jakarta. Raden Saleh, Indonesia's one true Old Master, did not make many stylistic changes during a career that spanned almost the full breadth of the 19th century, remaining true to his Romantic roots and training. His experiments were limited to the choice of his subjects, of which there are many – from wild animal hunts to picture-perfect portraits of governor generals in the Dutch East Indies.

The Jakarta Globe's top five picks from the works of Indonesia's "first modern artist" below represent the most important stages in his artistic journey.

1. Watercolor Sketches (1822-1825)

'A Man with a Sickle and a Man with a Sword.' (Photo courtesy of 'Between Worlds: Raden Saleh and Juan Luna' exhibition book)

These sketches were made between 1822 – when Raden Saleh was only 11 years old – and 1825. The budding artist already drew like a pro, with unerring likeness and attention to details.

'A Shed with Tools for Processing Rice.' (Photo courtesy of 'Between Worlds: Raden Saleh and Juan Luna' exhibition book)

These sketches belong to the Nationaal Museum van Wereldculturen (Tropenmuseum) in Leiden, but are available for viewing at the "Between Worlds: Raden Saleh and Juan Luna" exhibition at National Gallery Singapore until March 11.

2. "Shipwreck in Storm" (1837)

'Shipwreck in Storm' (1837). (Photo courtesy of National Gallery of Indonesia)

Seascapes were popular in Europe during the height of Romanticism from the late 18th century to early 19th century. They had also been part of the Dutch tradition since the 17th century, coinciding with the Netherlands’ rise as a global sea power.

Raden Saleh spent months at a time in sea journeys from Indonesia to the Netherlands, giving him plenty of first-hand experience of sea travels that made him equally adept at painting seascapes as his European counterparts.

The Javanese prince's most famous seascapes are a series of three paintings, two in 1837 and 1839 titled "Shipwreck in Storm" and one made in 1842, "Ship in Distress."

The first painting now belongs to the National Gallery of Indonesia, the second is in the possession of David Salman and Walter Jared Frost, and the last one is part of National Gallery Singapore’s permanent collection.

In 1840, Friedrich Carl Albert Schreuel painted "Portrait of Raden Saleh Syarif Bustaman" in which the Javanese dandy is depicted in the act of painting a seascape. According to Between Worlds' assistant curator Syed Muhammad Hafiz, this was an acknowledgement of Raden Saleh's excellence in marine painting.

3. "Wounded Lion" (1838)

'Wounded Lion' (1838). (Photo courtesy of National Gallery Singapore)

Historical paintings were the highest form of art during Raden Saleh's lifetime, so he, like many other aspiring artists back then, trained himself very hard to paint in this style.

In the end he had the skills, but was never comfortable with the style. As a Javanese Muslim, Eropean history and biblical stories were often too foreign for him.

Raden Saleh's favorite subject turned out to be something more visceral: wild animals. He loved going to animal tamer Henri Matin's shows in The Hague, where he often sneaked backstage to look at the lions and studied their anatomy in close quarters.

The dramatic "Wounded Lion" – now in National Gallery Singapore’s permanent collection – is the most famous of all his close-up lion paintings.

Another painting that shows Raden Saleh’s obsession with lions is "Head of a Lion" (1843), now owned by Museum Lippo in Indonesia.

The numerous lion paintings he created became the foundation of his later Orientalist works.

4. "Lion Hunt" (1841)

'Lion Hunt' (1841). (Photo courtesy of National Gallery Singapore)

There are two versions of Raden Saleh's "Lion Hunt" – one made in 1840 and the other one in 1841. The latter, Hafiz said, has a "more mature composition."

Painted while Raden Saleh was residing in Dresden, the "Lion Hunt" series was among Raden Saleh’s earliest hunting scene paintings.

They appealed to German art lovers at that time who had great curiosity about the Orient.

Art historian Werner Kraus said that after the Napoleonic Wars, the Germans desired stability and saw the East as "a civilization blessed by contentment with the present moment."

The 1840 "Lion Hunt" now belongs to a private collection but its sequel can be seen at the Latvian National Museum of Art.

The painting ended up in the Baltic state through the hands of German-Baltic trader Friedrich Brederlo who bought it in Dresden and then sold it in Riga along with paintings by other artists.

5. "Six Horsemen Chasing Deer" (1860)

'Six Horsemen Chasing Deer' (1860). (Photo courtesy of National Gallery Singapore)

"Six Horsemen Chasing Deer" was painted after Raden Saleh's triumphant return to Indonesia in 1852. It retained an oriental look, but in contrast to his other hunting scenes, this one is set in a real grassy plain in Bandung, West Java, and features Javanese men – instead of the imagined Middle Eastern scenes the artist had painted many times before.

On the background also appears the Malabar mountain, instead of some imaginary desert or forest.

According to National Gallery Singapore's senior curator Russel Storer, one of the hunters in the painting could have been Raden Saleh himself, who was an accomplished horseman.

The painting was one of four landscapes of Java commissioned by a Scottish businessman called Alexander Fraser.

They were inherited by his second wife Sally Burbank Swart who donated them to Smithsonian’s National History Museum in 1925.

Sixty years later, they were transferred to the American Art Museum and have stayed there ever since.

Honorable Mentions

The Arrest of Pangeran Diponegoro (1857)

'The Arrest of Pangeran Diponegoro' (1857) by Raden Saleh. (Photo courtesy of Goethe-Institut)

This is probably the most talked about painting by Raden Saleh. It has spurred endless discussions about Raden Saleh’s political stance, including whether or not the painting was meant to send an anti-colonial message.

The fact was that Raden Saleh rarely painted historical events, and "The Arrest of Pangeran Diponegoro" never did kickstart a series like his lions and Arab horsemen did.

Portraits and Self-Portraits

Portraits also made up a large part of Raden Saleh’s body of work. Both in Europe and in Java, he received many commissions for them and also painted them as gifts for people he respected.

Raden Saleh painted Jean Chrétien Baud, the Dutch colonial officer who gave him lodging when he first arrived at The Hague, and also the infamous Johannes van den Bosch, the 43rd Governor General of the Dutch East Indies who introduced cultuurstelsel, or enforcement planting, which brought the Netherlands back from the brink of bankruptcy after the Java War but also caused deadly famines and epidemics in Java in the 1840s.

After returning to his homeland, Raden Saleh continued to paint portraits of Dutch colonial officers and other foreigners living in the Dutch East Indies, but he also painted local royalties like Cianjur Regent Raden Adipati Kusumaningrat and Pontianak Sultan Syarif Hamid Alkadrie.

'Self-Portrait' (1835) by Raden Saleh. (Photo courtesy of Museum MACAN)

This Javanese dandy, the so-called "first modern Indonesian man," also produced a number of self-portraits. In these "selfies," Raden Saleh is mostly dressed like a typical dapper European.

In Johann Carl Bähr’s portrait of him, perhaps playing with the West's perception of him as an Orient, this "third culture" genius playfully posed in stylized Middle Eastern garb.

Karl Johann Bähr's 'Portrait of Raden Saleh' (1841). (Photo courtesy of Goethe-Institut)