Lot 281
  • 281

Renato L. Barja Jr.

45,000 - 65,000 HKD
bidding is closed


  • Renato L. Barja Jr.
  • The Old Couple
  • Signed and dated 2013; Signed, titled and dated 2013 on the reverse;
    Signed, titled and dated 2013 on the base of the sculptures
  • Oil on canvas / Hand sculpted, Hand painted fiber clay, epoxy, wood, vinyl paint, in 3 parts
  • Painting: 138 by 153 cm.; 54 1/4 by 60 1/4 in.
  • Sculpture: (i) 23 by 11.5 cm.; 9 by 4 1/2 in. (ii) 24 by 10 cm.; 9 1/2 by 4 in.


This work is in good condition overall, as is the canvas, which is clear and taut. There is light wear and handling around the edges of the painting. Examination under ultraviolet light reveals no evidence of restoration. Unframed, on a Stretcher. Sculpture is in good condition, free from chips and scuffs.
In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective qualified opinion. Illustrations in the catalogue may not be actual size. Prospective purchasers are reminded that, unless the catalogue description specifically states that a stone is natural, we have assumed that some form of treatment may have been used and that such treatment may not be permanent. Our presale estimates reflect this assumption.

Catalogue Note

The twilight of life is captured in this leaden palette of The Old Couple by Renato L. Barja, Jr. The artist depicts a husband and his wife standing in front of their humble home in a suburban environment. Each elephantine wrinkle, like a souvenir of their existence, marks a time passed. As if any sign of life is cheated by life itself, their expressions sigh in resignation. Refuse to see, their eyes are sunken to a mere squint; refuse to speak, their lips are reduced to a forceful down-turn line. The weight of time reveals in the sag of their mouths, the slant of their eyebrows and the stoop of their shoulders.

Deliberately reminiscent of Grant Wood’s “American Gothic” painting (1930), The Old Couple demands a similar logic behind its composition. Barja’s precise execution of details gives this painting an uncanny human presence: the woman’s oversized hand clutching onto the husband’s arm signals her full dependence on him; the worn-out collar of the man’s shirt suggests a lifetime of washing; the exaggerated veins on their necks recall age, stress and a lifestyle furthest away from comfort. Behind the couple are physical objects promised to provide happiness – the rooftops are painted in red and blue—the only hues in its otherwise monochromatic, somber environment.  The juxtaposition of Barja’s carefully chosen subjects with the background begs the essential question of what makes one happy. Perhaps, the artist is commenting on the situation of today’s society when neither shelter nor love is adequate to feel content. 

The conception of The Old Couple was inspired by the artist’s brief encounter with the old man, ironically named “Boy” (hence the title of the accompanying bust, Old Man Called Boy) at a children’s playground. Stuck by the stark contrast of youth and senescence before his eyes, Barja decided to dedicate the present painting to the fleeting quality of time and the effect that it has on us. The Old Couple is a truthful depiction of a universal human condition, which is an over-arching subject matter that permeates Barja’s oeuvre. Two accompanying sculptures, Old Lady and Old Man Called Boy, complete the story of husband and wife.