HENDRA GUNAWAN (1918-1983)
‘Two women, a child and a fruit seller, in a mountainous surrounding’,
signed and dated ‘74 lower left, canvas, 87,5 x 192,5 cm.
– a Dutch private collector, who lived in Indonesia;
– Acquired from mr. Jacob Vredenbregt in 1974.
Hendra Gunawan was one of the greatest modern artists of Indonesia. He is known for his caricaturist, colorful style of painting that draws on an expressionist background. A highly principled man, he was imprisoned for his communist beliefs, and his work kept out of the public eye for close to four decades.
Hendra Gunawan was born to Raden Prawiranegara and Raden Odah Tejaningsih in Bandung, West Java. He began drawing very early on, using everyday objects such as fruits, flowers, and pictures of movie stars as his models. He had begun making landscapes by the time he was in the seventh grade, studying at Pasundan High School.
Gunawan decided not to restrict himself to painting, and in 1938 began to teach himself sculpture. The painter Affandi had a big influence on Gunawan as well, and they were to form the “Kelompok Lima Bandung” (The Bandung Group of Five) with Barli, Sudarso, and Wahdi in 1950. During the Japanese invasion of Indonesia, Gunawan spent time teaching young students painting and sculpture. He held a one-man show in 1946 at the KNIP (Komite Nasional Indonesia Pusat) building in Yogyakarta. A few years later, he teamed together with a number of other Indonesian artists to create the Indonesian Fine Arts Academy.
Gunawan was eventually imprisoned in 1965 after there was an attempted coup against Sukarno. His crime was to have been involved with The Institute of Popular Culture, which happened to be associated with the ex-Indonesian Communist Party. He kept himself busy through his time in jail by painting. There also exist sketches from his time there made in pencil or ink on paper. Gunawan was eventually released in 1978 and moved to Bali. He was in the process of painting a selfportrait when he fell ill and died in 1983.
The oeuvre of Hendra mostly consists of symbolic themes, visualized in a surreal and multi-colored setting of working people, mainly women. The wayang topeng was a beloved theme of Hendra too, with the Javanese and Balinese masks embodying the symbolism and ancient culture of Indonesia. Hendra typically used pastels and saturated colors, and backgrounds in his paintings often include views of the rugged nature of Java and Bali.
In the current lot, a woman is breastfeeding her baby. She is accompanied by a friend, and possibly her husband on the right, who seems to be a fruit seller. In the distance we see two ladies strolling, a squatting man selling showing his market wares, and far left, some people walking home. These three elements possibly symbolize what is important for the young mother: friendship, work and a safe home. The saturated colours of her sarong and kebaya draw the attention; the warmth of their attire combined with the cool blue mountains backdrop not only creates a beautiful colour perspective, it also emphasizes the warmth and security the baby must feel toward his loving mother. Hendra clearly sets the husband apart, making him look down, and using camouflage colours. The women are the center of Hendra’s attention and adoration. In the foreground, surrounding the mother, are several fruits: nangka (jackfruit), mangosteen, pisang (banana) and durian. It is quite typical that Hendra paints mangosteen and durian, the queen and king of fruits. They are again symbolic of the the power and resilience of Indonesian women, that Hendra so often expressed.
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