Sotheby’s Hong Kong sale of Southeast Asian Paintings will be headlined rare works of European Academic style painters who travelled to southeast Asia in the early 20th century: Walter Spies and Romualdo Locatelli.
Walter Spies’ (1895 – 1942) sojourn in Bali is often described as the most creative period of his life. This painting, believed to be the first executed in 1927 when he arrived in Bali, was presented to the legendary feudal lord of Ubud, Cokorda Gede Raka Sukawati, Spies’ patron and host, as a token of gratitude for his lordship's hospitability when the artist moved to Bali. The Cokorda was a great patron of art who later founded an artists’ society, Pita Maha, with Spies and Rudolf Bonnet, which played a crucial role in shaping the development of modern Balinese art. Spies always celebrated the
Balinese approach to life and art, and the present work, with its shafts of divine light illuminating the earth, water and man, may be viewed as a work of great hope and optimism and a celebration of life.
Another highlight from the Modern session is Ritratto di Fu Ku Ko by renowned Italian painter, Romualdo F. Locatelli (1905-1943), best known for his society portraits created during his early years in Italy, and subsequently during his travels in Africa and Southeast Asia. This work traces its roots back to Locatelli’s 1938 visit to Java when the artist was invited by Mr. Fu Ching Chang, an affluent shipbuilder, to the launch of his merchant ship. Fu commissioned Locatelli to paint his wife, Mrs. Fu Ku Ko, and the resulting work is a stunning example of Locatelli's pioneering pairing of Western painting technique and Eastern pictoral symbolism. Ritratto di Fu Ku Ko is believed to be the only portrait of a Chinese subject ever painted by Locatelli. Since the artist died young at 38 and that many of his works were destroyed after the Second World War, finely executed and intact paintings on large-format canvases as such by the artist have become truly rare finds.
Juan Luna (1857 – 1899), the first Filipino artist to be recognised on a global scale, is represented in the sale by his En El Palco (In the Theatre Box) executed in 1884, which depicts one of the artist’s favourite subject matters - the prestigious opera houses of his era, where new European bourgeoisie and aristocracy flaunted wealth, power and influence. Set against the flamboyant background of the late 19th century, Luna illustrates a drama within another where the audience of the opera is “on-show” themselves, posturing as they play out their real-life act in parallel to the operatic act played before them.
The contemporary section will be headlined by Ronald Ventura’s Humanime, an interesting and more sunny new work. True to his signature style of combining super-flat caricatures of iconic animation characters with hyper-realistic figures, Ventura has brought another level of visual aesthetic in the present example executed in 2012. Here, he features a vixen with a human body and a disproportionately large head of an anime. His propensity to merge the human figure with another form – be it animal or robot – points to a mounting dissatisfaction with the human bodies as bearer of narrative. The jolly crowd of well-known characters, clashing against the drab background, screams at desperation for meaning. Fantasy and reality intertwined on the same canvas, inviting myriad interpretations from the viewers.