Lot 1067
  • 1067

Hendra Gunawan

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  • Hendra Gunawan
  • Mandi di Pancuran (Bathing in the Shower)
  • Signed and dated 79
  • Oil on canvas


Acquired by the executive of an oil company and brought to the United States
Thence by descent
Sotheby’s Singapore, April 4, 2004, lot 138
Private Collection, Indonesia


Helena Spanjaard, Indonesian Odyssey: A Private Journey Through Indonesia's Most Renowned Fine Art Collections, Equinox Publishing, Singapore, 2008, colourplate, pg. 38 - 39.


This work is in very good overall condition as viewed. There is evidence of very light and associated minor areas of paint loss to the edges of the work due to abrasions with the frame, but this does not affect the overall image. The paint layers are healthy overall. There are very few, sporadic pinhole sized accretions at sky, only visible upon very close inspection. There is a very faint network of hairline craquelure in areas of very thick impasto, consistent with age and only visible upon very close inspection. There is some paint loss/rubbing at thin impasto on the blouse of the woman who is washing clothes in the foreground. Examination under ultraviolet light reveals no sign 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

The monumental paintings of Hendra Gunawan are entrenched in modern Indonesian history as some of the most precious renderings of circadian life in Indonesia. One of the nation's leading first generation modern artists, Hendra Gunawan was a patriotic individual who felt a profound connection to his land and solidarity with the Indonesian people. Due to his association with the Institute of Popular Culture (Lekra), a social organization accused of having affiliations with the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI), the zealous visionary was incarcerated in Kebon Waru for thirteen ponderous and afflicting years. The present lot was painted just a year after his release from prison, when he re-entered the free world with an altered lens. Shortly after his emancipation, Hendra moved to Bali and began to paint with a more theatrical charm and dramatic color palette. The distinctiveness of Indonesian society he had once known so intimately suddenly possessed a new magic and is splendidly depicted in this vibrant work. Air Mancur particularly captures Hendra’s adoration of the women that perpetuate the way of life of his nation, and their symbiotic relationship with their native land.

In the present lot, three ebullient women are depicted in medias res, dominating the picture plane as they perform their daily ablutions. The artist’s penchant for detail is exemplified in the minutiae of this work. The maiden in the foreground washes her clothes, her body sinuously tapping a rhythm as she vigorously scrubs her garments against a rock. Another woman, placed at the apex of the painting, is perched on a rock as she wrings her spiraling tresses. Garbed in an unbuttoned kebaya top and seated with her legs unabashedly straddled, it is apparent that she is content in her secluded alcove, oblivious to the viewer’s gaze. Interposed between them is a third woman, obscured by the gushing flow of water that showers her from a protruding bamboo shoot. Her sarong hangs jauntily on a tree branch, owning the space as their personal dominion.

The recurring theme of three beauties is a timeless image with a classic quality, one that evidently attracted artists across eras and distances. Unlike the gregarious nudes in Renoir’s The Large Bathers, Hendra’s subjects are engrossed in their prosaic tasks. While Hendra’s women are purposefully dependent on the water, Renoir’s playful, flirtatious ladies  luxuriate in the pool and repose amongst friends. Hendra’s villagers are dynamic beings, bearing an air of independence and strength, too preoccupied to engage with one another and acknowledge the viewer's scrutiny.  Despite this, they appear comfortable and accustomed to the presence of their companions, intimating a mutual rapport embedded in their silence.

Hendra’s work bears similarities to genre paintings, which tend to illustrate scenes of everyday life by portraying ordinary people engaging in unpretentious, quotidian activities. Vasily Perov’s hunters are depicted at rest from their devoirs, much like Hendra’s women who are detached from their roles as mothers, wives, or workers. Much like the anonymous hunters, Hendra’s villagers represent no individual in particular. Rather, they are imagined or romanticized by the artist. It is no surprise that as an artist who rejoiced in the working class, he was attracted to the themes rampant within genre paintings, which are works historically popular among the bourgeoisie. As a social being that delighted in the commonplace happenings in the streets of his nation, Hendra loved to document picayune moments, ultimately elevating them to a sacred level.

Upon deeper inspection, it is apparent that Hendra premeditates the stance of his subjects in order to elucidate his reverence for his country’s bountiful, natural landscape and the sincere sense of devotion that emanates from the native villagers. The genuflecting pose of the bathing woman almost mirrors that of the maiden in the front, who appears to bow down before the vista on the right side of the painting. Perhaps this prostrating deportment is symbolic of their veneration for the sanctified river, on whose substantial life force they are so dependent.

This river finds its continuity in the backdrop of the composition, where it traverses infinitely through the cleavages of the valleys in the distance. The isolated, close nook in the forefront of the painting is juxtaposed against the deep, mountainous landscape behind it. Hendra skillfully permeates the painting with a sense of linear perception in this sprawling terrain, which provides a sense of release and balance to the otherwise clustered composition. 

His flamboyant use of colors is comparable to that of the Norwegian Expressionist artist Edvard Munch, who modulated and saturated skin tones in order to describe the moods of his characters or symbolize a certain idea. The swimmers featured in Bathers on Rocks possess fiery orange skin, possibly suggestive of the scorching sun, along with shades of blues, greens and grays that highlight their contours; reflections of the ocean before them. Hendra also utilizes colors to merge his subjects with their environs. The tanned skin of the bather in Mandi di Pancuran, visible through the translucent layer of water, mimics the colors of the rocks behind her. Concomitantly, the voluptuous contours of her back emulate the undulating shapes of these metamorphic boulders, such that she appears united with theseir natural formations. In the same vein, the dexterous positioning of the three subjects forms a geometric structure that directly echoes the triangular shape of the mountain in the distance. Together, the three women radiate with a sense of majesty and strength akin to that of the summit.

Hendra’s rhythmic and sinuous brushstrokes applied from an intriguing color palette deliver the painting with a whimsical sense of movement and liveliness. Evident in this painting, Hendra rejoiced in immortalizing the exquisiteness of Indonesian women, always depicted as active individuals so full of capacity. Truly intertwined with their native land, the people are in sync with nature, and working in synergy without interrupting the order of things. At once elusive and approachable, these women are enduringly enchanting. For Hendra, while community initiates life, it is his women who initiate the binds that perpetuate it.