Sotheby’s is immensely proud to present a salient composition by Romualdo Frederico Locatelli, marking the first time in recent history that a landscape painting by the artist has been offered at auction. Within Southeast Asian art history, this Italian maestro is ubiquitously celebrated for his figurative works from his brief time in Bali. However, this picturesque panorama of a golden harvest provides us with a different understanding of the mysterious artist; it speaks of his adoration of the outdoors, particularly his captivation with Balinese vistas and how they intertwine with rural existence.
This rare painting portrays a sprawling expanse of a bountiful harvest, iridescent with golden hues. The warm colours of the Balinese countryside dominate the picture plane, which is blanketed with the orange afterglow of the afternoon sun. This auspicious subject, coupled with the shimmering shades of yellow and gold, conjures an overflowing cornucopia of richness.
The present lot can be juxtaposed with Locatelli’s Cutting the Rice from the Collection of President Sukarno, which also celebrates the abundance of the land. This comparable work presents a similar scene from a closer viewpoint, which does not reach far enough to show a horizon line. In both works, Locatelli adds a sense of depth within the fields by including numerous farmers perched sporadically along the fields, their torsos emerging from the deep crops. The figures in Harvest appear smaller and smaller as they recede into a vanishing point, adding nuances of dimension to the work.
Locatelli celebrates the hardships of the rural folk, who are ensconced in a golden blaze as they engage in their daily activities. Rendered with a painstaking verisimilitude, the individuals are portrayed with an inherent dignity as they carry out their labor. Towering majestically above them are thin tree trunks, also interspersed across the distant field. The misty plateau in the background is separated from the meadow by a forest, painted in lush green.
The present lot reveals the artist’s ability to combine the fine finish of an academically realistic image with the looser brushstrokes associated with Impressionist art. During his time in Italy, Locatelli was primarily a society portraitist who worked from commission. However, upon his arrival in Bali, he took the liberty to venture into painting subjects that genuinely inspired him, choosing them based on his own free will. Therefore, the scene in Harvest was likely one that deeply stirred him, prompting him to immortalize the afternoon view on canvas.
Having been born to a lineage of artists in Northern Italy in 1905, it was only natural that Locatelli was surrounded by art throughout his childhood. However, it was quickly apparent that the young prodigy was also gifted with the artistic flair so potent in his bloodline. Recognizing his raw talent, he constantly honed his skills by attending traditional art classes and he also took the opportunity to assist his father with producing frescos for the parish church in San Filastro at the fledgling age of 14. He studied at the Carrara Art Academy in Bergamo and the Palazzo di Brera in Milan. Benito Mussolini and Pope Pius XI were among some of the prominent collectors of Locatelli’s works.
In 1933, Locatelli was commissioned to paint a portrait of King Victor Emmanuel II in Rome, which was later exhibited at the 1938 Venice Biennale, where it caught the attention of numerous admirers. John de Jong, a Bandung-based Dutch collector, asked Locatelli to move to the Dutch East Indies as an artist in residence. Bringing along his new wife Erminia, Locatelli set sail to Bandung, Batavia and Bali.
Erminia recalls their fascination upon arriving on the unadulterated island of Bali: “We were enchanted with the place… and we could see the rice terraces and a steep path going down to a vast valley, through which flowed a winding stream.”2 Captivated by the beautiful, young Balinese dancers and sun kissed vistas, Locatelli experienced an aesthetic rebirth, producing an oeuvre from the whims of his own passions and inspirations. Though he had previously flourished as a high society portraitist, he inherently yearned to choose subjects that truly moved him and create his own compositions, free from the constraints of formal portraiture.
Despite the fact that the young artist was already well-acclaimed in Europe prior to voyaging to Southeast Asia, it was his opus produced in Bali that established him as an integral part of the region’s art history. Unfortunately his time in Indonesia was too short, as World War II was intensifying outside the archipelago, making it difficult for foreigners to return home. The couple moved to the Philippines, where they lived until Locatelli’s mysterious disappearance in 1943.
Erminia remembers their time in Southeast Asia as “oriental memories”, their “last adventures together in an apocalyptic situation of war.”3 Given the fact that most of his works, approximately 75 warehoused paintings, were obliterated during the demolition of Manila by the US army, his remaining works are extremely rare and only sporadically appear in the public market. The present lot, a striking picture rejoicing the lushness of the tropics, stands as the only landscape to appear at auction in recent history.
1 Erminia Locatelli Rogers, Romualdo Frederico Locatelli: The Ultimate Voyage of an Italian Artist in the Far East, “Memoirs 1938-1946”, Darga Fine Arts Publications, Jakarta, 1994, p. 41
2 Ibid., p. 41
3 Ibid., p. 7
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