The Jakarta Post
Under the hammer: Jack-Philippe Rubella (center) leads the auction of Raden Saleh’s painting Banteng Hunt in Vanes, France, on Saturday. The painting became the most expensive Indonesian work of art after it was bought for €7.2 million (US$8.8 million). (French auction house Jack-Philippe Rubella/File)
A painting by Raden Saleh broke a new record as the most expensive Indonesian piece of art in the market at an auction in France on Saturday, when it was sold for €7.2 million (Rp 119.9 billion or US$8.8 million) to an anonymous Indonesian collector.
Auctioneer Jack-Philippe Ruellan said the auction of Saleh’s Perburuan Banteng (Banteng Hunt) was a great success.
“This is a record for Raden Saleh paintings and Indonesian paintings,” he told The Jakarta Post by email on Monday.
Indonesian art critic and consultant to the palace art collection Agus Dermawan T. also confirmed that it was the highest hammer price for the work of an Indonesian artist.
“Several years ago, the works of S. Sudjojono, Lee Man Fong, Hendra Gunawan, which are of much bigger size, were sold for Rp 60 billion [$4.4 million] to 85 billion,” Agus said.
Bidding for Saleh’s Banteng Hunt opened at €200,000. Prior to Saturday’s auction, the painting was expected to fetch €1 million. This prediction was based on the sale of a similar paining by Saleh titled The Deer Hunt, which sold for €1.5 million at Christie’s Singapore in 1996.
Ruellan said his auction house on Saturday had 12 telephone bidders and other two bidders in the room.
Read also: Raden Saleh painting discovered in France
“The final buyer was definitely determined, bidding was very fast between the room and the telephones,” Ruellan said, describing the auction as a ping-pong party.
“As soon as there was a telephone bid, the paddle in the room was rising… [It was] a very exciting moment for the auctioneer.”
He said Museum Pasifika in Bali was among the bidders for the painting.
“They did not get it, unfortunately, but they did put up a fight,” he said.
The anonymous buyer has created a buzz of speculation back home, including that the painting was bought by the new Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art in Nusantara (MACAN). The museum’s director, Aaron Seeto, however, did not respond to requests for comment.
Syed Muhammad Hafiz, one of the curators for the National Gallery Singapore’s exhibition “Between Worlds: Raden Saleh and Juan Luna,” which runs until March 11, said on Wednesday he had been aware of the auction in France since the auctioneer had been in Singapore to catch the exhibition earlier this month.
The auctioneer, he said, later emailed him to inform him that the piece eventually got auctioned off for more than €7.2 million — making it the most expensive Raden Saleh work ever, and making him the most expensive Indonesian artist in the auction market.
“We all know Raden Saleh is an important figure in Indonesia’s art history, so it is not surprising this current painting reached that high price. His prices have been rising, and his works do not appear in the market often, so I think it’s a matter of time before it goes past the $10 million mark,” he said.
As for an Indonesian collector buying the piece, he said that on the one hand, that was a good thing, as the painting would be brought back to Indonesia from Paris. “But on the other hand, if the painting was bought by a private collector, that means it will not be seen by the Indonesian public, unless there is an exhibition featuring the painting,” Hafiz says.
“Is that good for the Indonesian art public? I’m not sure, because I think at the end of the day, for the public and the art world [including museums, curators and students] to benefit, they should be able to view the works of Raden Saleh from time to time. If not, he remains almost like a myth, where one hears about his greatness but does not really know what that greatness is about.”
The painting is the fourth installment to a trio of similar paintings representing a similar theme of a Banteng Hunt, two of which are in the art collection of the State Palace.
It was only rediscovered in August 2017 in the cellar of a retired French couple from Brittany, who wish to remain anonymous. The painting was given to the two as an inheritance from a great aunt who had lived with a diplomat and traveled all over the world.
According to research by French gallery Cabinet Turquin, the painting is believed to have been commissioned by Jules Stanislas Sigisbert Cézard, the son of wealthy French coffee and sugar traders who was born in Jakarta (then called Batavia) in 1829.
Cézard returned to France in 1859, selling his house and fittings including Saleh work, as announced in the newspaper Java-Bode.
Reuben Wylie is an intern at The Jakarta Post.
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