During the height of colonial rule in Southeast Asia in the 19th century, two young men from Indonesia and the Philippines sailed across the ocean to Europe, to train under great painters of their time. They steadily earned their place within European art worlds, and their successes there made them national heroes in their respective homelands.
From 16 November 2017, these two luminaries will be the subject of the exhibition Between Worlds: Raden Saleh and Juan Luna at National Gallery Singapore. The exhibition unites, for the first time, an array of their masterpieces loaned from private and public collections around the world that traces their artistic journey from Southeast Asia to Europe and back again. It also tells of their struggle to reconcile their love of homeland with their ambitions in Europe, where they established their careers.
A Comparative Journey of Two 19th Century Masters from Southeast Asia Despite hailing from different countries and being active at different times of the 19th century, the artists shared a similar journey as Southeast Asian artists who received opportunities to hone their craft in Europe.
Raden Saleh (c.1811 – 1880) – Conferred the title of “King’s Painter” by King Willem III of the Netherlands, Raden Saleh was the first Indonesian artist to receive training in Europe, from landscape, genre and portrait artists from the Netherlands. He went on to receive acclaim in Germany and Paris for his signature Orientalist animal hunts and fights. A leading example is Boschbrand (Forest Fire) (1849), on display at the Gallery’s UOB Southeast Asia Gallery. This immense painting of 3 x 4 meters depicts a dramatic scene of animals chased by flames over the edge of a precipice.
Juan Luna (1857 – 1899) Taken under the wing of Spanish painter Alejo Vera, the Filipino artist Juan Luna studied in Madrid and Rome. His painting Spoliarium earned him fame in Spain and won him the First Class Medal in Spain’s annual art exhibition in Madrid in 1884. Luna then moved to Paris, participating in the salons there while exhibiting and accepting commissions in Spain.
Titled Between Worlds: Raden Saleh and Juan Luna to signify the artists’ lives between Europe and their home countries, this exhibition takes an exploratory look at each artist’s work over their illustrious careers across different time periods. It examines their ability to work with varied techniques learned from European artists and how their work developed over time, while offering an insight into their lives as Southeast Asian artists working in Europe.
Dr Eugene Tan, Director of National Gallery Singapore said, “Raden Saleh and Juan Luna are two of the earliest and most significant artists who propelled the prestige of Southeast Asian art around the world in the 19th century. Given the National Gallery Singapore’s commitment to furthering the understanding of Southeast Asian art globally, we are excited to be organising this extensive exhibition featuring their paintings from across the world. Between Worlds will enable the works of Saleh and Luna to become more accessible to our audiences while furthering our understanding of the art histories of Southeast Asia in the 19th century.”
The exhibition is a culmination of four years of effort by the Gallery’s curators – Russell Storer, Clarissa Chikiamco and Syed Muhammad Hafiz – to bring together more than 100 paintings, drawings and archival materials from Southeast Asian, European and American museums and private collections, for the very first time.
Russell Storer, Deputy Director, Curatorial & Collections of National Gallery Singapore said, “Raden Saleh and Juan Luna have works in the collections of some of the world’s leading museums. In bringing this extraordinary group of works together, we have worked closely with these museums as well as private collectors, libraries and archives. With their support, we have been able to shape a rich and expansive exhibition that will enable people to learn about the remarkable lives and careers of Raden Saleh and Juan Luna, and to appreciate the impact they made in the art worlds in Europe as well as in Southeast Asia.” With close collaboration with specialists on Raden Saleh and Juan Luna and 19th century Southeast Asian history, the exhibition endeavours to further the study of both artists, including new insights on their work, their lives, and their influence on modern art in their respective countries.
Significant artworks in the exhibition include two landscape paintings of Java by Raden Saleh from the collection of the Smithsonian, on public display for the first time; as well as the spectacular Arab Horseman Attacked by a Lion (1842).
Highlights of the Juan Luna works on display include Cleopatra (1881) - a dramatic depiction of Cleopatra’s death which won him his first major prize in Europe; and Les Ignorés (The Unknown Ones) (1890-91), one of his major surviving works in Realism that marked a shift in his focus from historical paintings to paintings that reflect contemporary social realities.
Between Worlds: Raden Saleh and Juan Luna will be held at the Singtel Special Exhibitions Gallery. Ms Chua Sock Koong, Group CEO of Singtel, the Lead Sponsor of the exhibition said, “As Asia’s leading telecommunications group, we are pleased to support this fascinating exhibition which throws the spotlight on two extraordinary Southeast Asian artists who gained recognition in the foremost art capitals in Europe and shaped the art history of this region. We hope visitors will enjoy their works which reflect their experiences living between two diverse cultures and societies, and exemplify the strength of Southeast Asian art.”
The exhibition is part of Century of Light, a special presentation of two exhibitions focusing on art of the 19th century. The complementary exhibition, Colours of Impressionism: Masterpieces from the Musée d’Orsay traces the history of Impressionism through the theme of colour, and features important works by masters such as Claude Monet, Auguste Renoir and Paul Cézanne. Both exhibitions will be held from 16 November 2017 to 11 March 2018.
Entry to the exhibition costs $15 for Singaporeans and Permanent Residents, and $25 for non- Singaporeans. Concessions rates are also available at $10 and $20 respectively.
Century of Light is supported by Lead Sponsor Singtel, Major Sponsor Changi Airport Group, Official Radio Stations 88.3Jia FM & Power 98FM and Supporters Air France, Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth and the Tote Board Group which comprises the Tote Board, Singapore Pools and Singapore Turf Club.