A deeply nationalistic artist, Hendra executed several large scale paintings depicting episodes of revolution and uprising from Indonesia’s troubled history. However, genre painting was to remain the recurring theme of Hendra’s oeuvre throughout the artist’s prolific career as he focused on moments of poignant human interactions.
Hendra’s appreciation for traditional, close-knit communities and village culture is beautifully encapsulated in Chicken Vendors. The three women depicted fill up nearly the entirety of the canvas and are given statuesque proportions in line with Hendra’s desire to elevate the status of ordinary working people. The women in this painting are voluptuous beauties, their sinuous curves enhanced by their flowing clothes. The swirling batik patterns featured on the women’s dresses not only point towards a proud Indonesian artistic tradition but also compliment the decorative patterns used to render the textured feathers of the chickens to the effect that all figures are united in a tightly composed configuration of rhythmic swirls and lush colour. Hendra paints his subjects with great compassion; despite their humble stations in life, the women of this painting are emblematic of feminine beauty and embody the notion of women as nurturers who are indispensable to daily life. Furthermore, the circular arrangement of the women alludes to the artist’s value for interconnectedness and harmony.
The subjects of this painting are set against a dramatic and atmospheric skyscape. Hendra’s mastery of oil painting is manifest in the dreamy blue and green tonalities of the background that appear veiled in a soft haze. The inclusion of dark smoky clouds suspended above the figures adds to the powerfully emotive aspect of the painting. With this sublime background emerging from behind, the women take on an ethereal and majestic quality.
In this painting, Hendra demonstrates that ordinary people are just as worthy of artistic representation as any king or political leader. One cannot help but recall the realist works of Millet or Daumier in their heroic depictions of peasants imbued with epic grandeur. However, Hendra went beyond capturing social reality and interpreted his rural subjects in his own, highly personal brand of expressionism through his stylisation of figures and expressive use of colour. It is widely known that Hendra remained a very socially engaged artist throughout his career. The present lot is a striking extolment of the artist’s great love for Indonesia and its unsung working class heroes.
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