Lot 477
  • 477

Hendra Gunawan

750,000 - 1,250,000 HKD
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  • Hendra Gunawan
  • Aku (I)
  • Signed, titled and dated 74
  • Oil on canvas
  • 88 by 95.5 cm.; 34 1/2 by 37 1/2 in.


Formerly in the Collection of Dr. Jacob Vredenbregt, Indonesia
Sotheby's Singapore, October 22, 2006, Lot 186
Acquired by the Present Owner at the Above sale


The work is in good condition overall. The canvas is taut and the paint layers are sound. Indications of minor wear and handling along the edges is evident due to the mounting of the frame. Upon closer observation reveals minute signs of craquelure (specifically on the forehead, and white shirt sleeve). Under ultraviolet light inspection, there is no evidence of restoration. Framed.
"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. Prospective buyers should also refer to any Important Notices regarding this sale, which are printed in the Sale Catalogue.

Catalogue Note

“[Acclaimed], nearly universally, as one of the best painters in the history of Modern Indonesian [painters]”1, wrote Astri Wright, art historian and renowned scholar of Southeast Asian Art.

A visual storyteller and master of the modern narrative painting, Hendra Gunawan was inspired by the modernist ideals he read in second hand books and magazines, as well as by his deep understanding of the people. His paintings are an expression of his own reality, presented in a style that was accessible to all Indonesians, because of the artworks’ warmth, sensitivity and humility.

Aku (I) offers an honest portrayal of Hendra’s life during his thirteen-year incarceration in Kebon Waru. Narrating a story of grief, angst and yearning, the painting is colored with the artist’s passion and optimism. The Indonesian Communist Party’s (PKI’s) attempted a coup d’ètat on September 30, 1965, a deliberate action to eradicate communism in Indonesia. Hendra’s affiliations with LEKRA (Institute for People’s culture), may be a cause for the artist’s capture, and subsequent imprisonment.

History suggests that Hendra’s attachment to LEKRA was only a philosophical relationship. Astri Wright wrote, “[It] is useful to remember that to be a member of LEKRA was not synonymous with being a communist; this distinction has been made repeatedly.”2 The true political extent of Hendra’s involvement is unclear, but what is certain was that he was imprisoned in Kebon Waru, near Bandung, from December 1965-1978.

Hendra’s self-portrait titled Aku was executed in 1974. The work shows the artist seated against a wall with his hair and mustache running long and free, reminiscent of a Chinese sage. His long and sinuous fingers are entwined between the prison bars, echoed by his blanket’s striped pattern. The room is completely bare apart from an empty glass and a mask of Rangda, which may be a reference to the evil state that is the artist’s mind. Scattered bursts of colors – orange, turquoise and pink – in the midst of a dreary, grey palette seem like attempts to wash away this sense of isolation and sorrow, and hint at the existence of hope, a theme that was explored frequently during the artist’s time in prison.

The painting expresses longing and suffering, and yet Hendra is seen smiling in the portrait. Revealing no clues of his depression or concern, Aku (I) is a celebration of the artist’s faith that he would be released, and it is uplifting to know that freedom was soon returned to the artist. Aku (I) is a touching example of the strength and endurance of a man, and is an inspirational painting that is about the triumph of courage over despair.

1Astri Wright, Painting the People, Modern Indonesian Art, Three Generations of Tradition and Change 1945-1990, Joseph Ficher, ed., Singapore National Printers Ltd., Singapore 1990

2Refer to 1