Lot 1043
  • 1043

Romualdo Frederico Locatelli

1,600,000 - 2,800,000 HKD
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  • Romualdo Frederico Locatelli
  • The Little Sister
  • Signed and inscribed
  • Oil on canvas


Acquired directly from the artist between 1939 and 1943 by Ernest Helge Christian Berg
Thence by descent, Private Collection, USA


This work is in very good overall condition as viewed, and the paint layers are healthy overall. Examination under ultraviolet light reveals small spots of restoration along the edges of the work and at the backdrop. 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

Romualdo Frederico Locatelli was born in 1905 to a fresco and decorative artist Luigi Locatelli, who in fact already hailed from a lineage of endowed artisans in Northern Italy. It was quickly evident that Romualdo Frederico Locatelli, too, was gifted with the family’s aesthetic flair. The young prodigy inevitably spent his childhood assisting his father in his work and even embellished frescos for the parish church in San Filastro at the age of 14.

Under the tutelage of Ponziano Loverini, he studied at the Academia Carrara and developed his art within the conservative confines of the art academies patronized by the old ruling elite. His striking works attracted distinguished collectors such as Benito Mussolini and Pope Pius XI, and copious opportunities led him forward him throughout his career. In 1933, the young artist was discovered and commissioned to paint a portrait of King Victor Emmanuel II, a painting that was then be selected as part of the 1938 Venice Biennale, where it was the cynosure of all eyes.

A Bandung-based Dutch collector, John de Jong, was enthralled by the artist’s works during a visit to Italy and subsequently asked the maestro to move to the Dutch East Indies as an artist in residence. In 1938, Locatelli and his wife voyaged to Bandung, Batavia (present day Jakarta) and then Bali, where people from the colonial society cordially welcomed them. Though Locatelli flourished as the high society portraitist, he inherently yearned to fashion his own compositions, free from the constraints of formal portraiture.

The present lot, The Little Sister, an endearing image of a Balinese youth, is one that the artist painted from his own resolve. Bearing plump cheeks and a docile expression on her face, the young girl exudes with an unadulterated beauty that enchanted the artist and inspired him to immortalize it. Her petite form dominates the picture plane, framed by the illuminated wall beside her and the brightened ground below her. Emerging from a dim backdrop, she is skillfully rendered in chiaroscuro and her soft contours are blanketed with a yellow glow. Locatelli thoughtfully chose a sepia-toned palette, with velvety browns and earthy yellows that summon the natural pigments often utilized in Javanese and Balinese decorative art.


Unlike the characteristic Indo-European figurative paintings that capture the essence of the female form, this intimate work is a rare image of a child whose mature charm contradicts her fledgling age. She is garbed in a Balinese sarong fitted tightly around her slender waist. With posture befitting that of a queen, she sits modestly on the floor with one arm raised to help balance a pot perched delicately on her head. Crowned with flowers and a fabric head-ring to support the earthen pot, it is possible that the child may be practicing for a ritual or ceremony in the presence of the artist.


The viewer is physically at the same level as the child, implying that Locatelli was also seated on the floor when he painted her. Amicably engaging him with her soft yet alert eyes, the girl is conscious of the artist’s close observation and comfortable in his presence. While her curious gaze causes here to appear unassuming and approachable, Locatelli manages to capture the nuances of her fearless, bold deportment.


Though this delightful child originates from Bali, she has in fact traveled across the earth and survived to witness epochs of history. Amidst the precarious flux of World War II, Locatelli brought this precious work from Bali to Manila, Philippines, shortly after an exhibition in Bandung and Jakarta in 1939. In Manila, his German friend Ernest Helge Christian Berg, the author of And Yet the Twain and the owner of the Berg Department Store chain in Manila, acquired the painting prior the Japanese occupation of the Philippines. In 1945, two years after Locatelli’s mysterious disappearance, the Battle of Manila forced Ernest Berg and his family to flee to California. Amongst the peril of the inferno, devastation of the massacres and the haste of the escape, the family brought with them their bear necessities and this painting: a tribute to a dear friend.


The painting is comparable to Portrait of a Nude, a painting sold by Sotheby’s in 2014 that depicts a slightly older sitter captured in the glorious flushes of blossoming adolescence. Upon viewing The Little Sister and Portrait of a Nude, both gems from the Berg family Collection, it is evident that Locatelli adroitly used the power of his brush to elevate these Balinese youths from their roles as passive sitters, to everlasting sprites that enthrall all those around them.


Since nearly 75 warehoused paintings by Locatelli were abolished during the destruction of the city, his remaining works are rare and only sporadically appear in the public market. Having survived the world war and retained in the Berg family’s private collection in California, The Little Sister is a recherché treasure of which Sotheby’s is privileged to exhibit and offer.