National Gallery Singapore is to showcase masterpieces by two of Southeast Asia’s greatest painters Raden Saleh and Juan Luna – in the upcoming exhibition “A Journey between the Worlds of Southeast Asia and Europe –The Extraordinary Lives and Works of Raden Saleh and Juan Luna”.
Running from Thursday (November 16) to March 11, 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.
During the height of colonial rule in Southeast Asia in the 19th century, the 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.
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.
Conferred the title of “King’s Painter” by King Willem III of the Netherlands, Raden Saleh (1811-1880) 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 measuring 3 x 4 metres depicts a dramatic scene of animals chased by flames over the edge of a precipice.
Taken under the wing of Spanish painter Alejo Vera, the Filipino artist Juan Luna (1857-1899) 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.
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.
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 Ignores” (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.
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 Musee 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 Cezanne. Both exhibitions will be held over the same period.
Entry to the exhibition costs $15 (Bt365) for Singaporeans and permanent residents, and $25 (Bt610) for non-Singaporeans.
For more information about the exhibition, visit www.NationalGallery.sg/centuryoflight.