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Auction of Indonesian paintings – The story of Sampih and Colin McPhee

On our next auction of Indonesian paintings we offer again important paintings by Auke Sonnega (1910-1963). For this auction we are looking for works by artists like: Willem Gerard Hofker, Luciën Frits Ohl, Rudolf Bonnet, Hal Wichers, Romualdo Locatelli, Gerard Pieter Adolfs, Walter Spies, Adriaen Le Mayeur de Merpres, Theo Meier, Pieter Ouborg, Lee Man Fong, Willem Imandt, Auke Sonnega, Isaac Israëls, Willem Dooijewaard, etc.
One of the paintings by Auke Sonnega is a special one.

First of all, as far as we know, it was one of the most expensive paintings he sold during his career. In his archive we found a few lists with financial records regarding sold paintings. These lists did not represent all his sold paintings (our other painting ‘The Glory of the Tani’ was not mentioned), but on these lists this painting was the most expensive one!

Auke Sonnega (1910-1963), ‘Sampih in Kebyar’, signed, dated 1949, canvas, 115 x 90 cm. 
This painting will be shown in the soon to be released biography of Auke Sonnega 
by Didier Hamel (full page, page 192).
Source: Auke Sonnega’s own photo collection.

The person on the painting is Sampih (1926-1954), a famous dancer. At the age of eight years he rescued the renowned Canadian composer and musicologist Colin McPhee (1900-1964) from drowning in a flash flood. McPhee was inspired by the Balinese gamelanmusic and lived on Bali at that time. After the rescue a close friendship emerged and Sampih was invited to live in the house of McPhee. Kebyar is a Balinese dance.

 Sampih dancing Kebyar, Filmed by Colin McPhee.

Sonnega knew Sampih very well. The following photo’s are taken by Auke Sonnega himself.

Source: Auke Sonnega’s own photo collection.
Source: Auke Sonnega’s own photo collection.

 Colin McPhee saw Sampihs talent for dancing and encouraged him to be a professional dancer. Eventually Sampih became one of the most famous dancers of Bali. In 1952 Sampih made a successful worldtour (with John Coast’s ‘Dancers of Bali’) to places like London, New York (Broadway) and Las Vegas.

Here Sampih dancing in Fulton Theatre (Life Magazine):

Photo: Gordon Parks, Time & Life Pictures, Getty Images. Sep 01, 1952

McPhee wrote about his experiences in his autobiography ‘A house in Bali’, published in 1947 (republished by Periplus in 2000).


In this book he wrote two whole chapters about Sampih.

 There is also an opera based on this book (by Evan Ziporyn, 2009). In this opera, of course, there is a dancer who plays Sampih. In 1985 Michael Blackwood made a film about McPhee: ‘The Lure of Asian Music’.

Trailer of the opera ‘A house in Bali’.
An example of music by McPhee you can hear below.

 Colin McPhee, Tabuh-Tabuhan: Balinese music with western instruments.
More information about our auctions of Indonesian paintings:
René de Visser

Zeeuws Veilinghuis
Herengracht 74
NL – 4331 PX  Middelburg
Tel. +31(0) 118-650680