Clothes Vendors is an exquisite piece from Hendra’s oeuvre depicting two women in his trademark stylised aesthetic. The women’s relaxed postures lend a pleasant languor to the scene as they recline on the river bank with a basket of clothes by their feet. In contrast to the spirited energy found in some of Hendra’s other works, this painting showcases a slower, more placid side to life as the women pause from their daily tasks to chat and enjoy each other’s company.
Hendra’s poetic artistic style is on full display in the present work, from the vivid colour palette to the graceful lines used to depict the women in profile. A sense of fluidity and animation is also evident in the women’s figures, whose exaggerated curvatures, elongated limbs and enlarged feet harken back to the strong influence of wayang kulit (shadow puppetry) on his work. Their expressive body language is indeed a highlight of this piece, as the distinctive features of wayang one can observe in their figures add a distinct Javanese flair to the work. The intricately-patterned batik sarongs the women are clad in are also another visual motif that was a favourite of Hendra’s, as he often used it to represent traditional Indonesian culture and indigenous pride.
The portrayal of the women in this painting also reflects modern Indonesian art’s move away from the Mooi Indies aesthetic that characterised the work of earlier Indo-European artists, many of whom sought to paint the ‘exotic’ beauties they saw in these lands. While Hendra’s work undoubtedly celebrates the sensual beauty of the women he portrayed, the women are not merely passive objects beholden to the viewer’s gaze. With the two women taking up most of the central space on the canvas, the present lot functions as an intimate study of the two of them in a quiet moment of relaxation. What is striking is how the women are natural, confident, and overall oblivious to the viewer’s scrutiny.
Like in this painting, Hendra also often used the natural landscape as a backdrop to his depictions of Indonesian life. Winding rivers, gracefully curved trees, vividly coloured skies—the poetics of nature are on full display in much of Hendra’s repertoire. At the same time, one ought not to forget that these landscapes are also Indonesian landscapes, not merely generic creations acting as wallpaper to his human subjects. Hendra’s lifelong love for his country manifested in a desire to represent it at its most beautiful and most vibrant, and he lavished significant amounts of attention on painting elegant landscapes for his human subjects to inhabit. They, as well as the landscapes, are imbued with an inherent dynamism due to his deliberate choice to make use of bold and bright colours when painting them. For instance, by contrasting brilliant hues of yellow, blue, green, and red as seen in the present lot, the interplay of colours creates a rich visual tapestry onto which Hendra renders the drama of daily life.
Ultimately, Hendra’s love for his nation and people shines through in his works. A renowned political activist as well as artist, he succeeded in uniting his artistic and political visions by representing his ideals for Indonesian harmony and community through his art. Clothes Vendors’ instantly recognisable aesthetic makes it a classic gem from Hendra’s oeuvre, with its splendid use of colour and beautifully stylised painted subjects. It is also emblematic of Hendra’s affinity for discovering the extraordinary in the ordinary happenings of daily life, an impulse he also brought to his art, where Hendra elevated everyday scenes and figures into theatrical, sometimes nigh fantastical scenarios worthy of being immortalised in paint.
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