Self-Portrait with Roses is special as it reveals some of Sudjojono’s most intimate revelations, and foreshadows Rose’s role as a source of inspiration in the coming years. Masterfully composed in a palette of rich reds and dark brooding tones, the current work was first acquired by a close friend of the artist and can as a visual love letter to Rose. The artist stands squarely in the middle of a simple room, wearing a dark overcoat and winter layers, he dons a black hat covering all but a small comb of hair. Holding an unwavering gaze and a bouquet of red roses, his face is rendered with incredible life-likeness and intensity of emotion. While the flowers are synonymous for Sudjojono’s affections for the young singer, what is immediately captivating about the work is the tenderness and vulnerable romanticism imbued throughout the painting.
Bearing his soul upon the canvas, Sudjojono dedicates the self-portrait to the great love of his life, whom he met several years earlier in Amsterdam on his way to attend the 3rd World Festival of Youth and Students in Berlin. While their first encounters in Europe in 1951 were brief, the developments between Sudjojono and Rose traversed several years before Sudjojono began painting her portraits in 1956. Among the very first appearances of Rose in Sudjojono’s oeuvre, Self-Portrait with Roses is inscribed at the top left of the canvas with a passionate confession:
Ba’ gunung tinggi mentjapai awan,
Ba’ lembah rendah menjimpan hutan,
Begitu padamu datar tak ada.
Puntjak, lembah sergap menjergap…
Kau kotjok aku menggletar kerdja
Djangan Tinggalkan aku
Like tall mountains reaching the clouds,
Like low valleys holding the forest,
So there is to you no flatness.
Peaks and valleys suddenly ambush one another.
Rose, my inspiration.
You shake me till my toil trembles
Don't leave me
My dear Love
Such inscriptions in Sudjojono’s work bear various purposes, some serve as additional notes conveying ideas that cannot be expressed pictorially while others have been described as a form of poetry. In Self-Portrait with Roses, Sudjojono’s dramatic writing style reveals his poetic abilities as he embraces free-flowing metaphors. He likens Rose’s spirit to the highest and lowest points of nature, with whom he can soar with freely, but also rest and hide in. Sudjojono essentially describes how her lively persona holds the power to shake him to his very core.
Even without the inscriptions, Self-Portrait with Roses exhibits a powerful poeticism as Sudjojono displays his sensitive style and affinity for the unfiltered realities of the Indonesian experience. He does not attempt to beautify his facial features, but rather focuses on portraying himself deep in thought, his eyes full of longing and adoration. His slim, astute face is framed by the stiff collar of his outercoat, while the whiteness of his inner shirt draws the eye towards the delicate brushstrokes delineating his pensive expression. The artist’s countenance exudes a heavy intensity, as half of his face is blurred in shadow, while the other half catches the light streaming from the window behind him.
While Sudjonono’s commitment to reality is evoked in the grittiness of the piece, the artists leaves space for imagination. He completes the background in loose, generous swathes of browns and ochres, rendering the interior setting vague. The rich velvet red of the floor animates the predominantly sombre composition and echoes the colour of the roses held dearly in the artist’s arms. Signifying the artist’s passionate feelings towards Rose, the vibrant hue is also evocative of a red carpet, welcoming the presence of an important person in Sudjojono’s life. Towards the back of the room, Sudjojono sketches what appears to be an unfinished portrait left leaning against the wall. Yet Sudjojono’s clothing situates the present scene amid winter weather, not in his studio in Yogyakarta. Self-Portrait with Roses is perhaps reminiscent of his time spent in Europe, where Sudjojono first met Rose, infusing the work with the nostalgia of his initial infatuations that have since deepened and grown.
An early indication of what would eventually form a substantial series of still life paintings of flowers, Self Portrait with Roses also showcases the artist’s metaphorical style. Much like the surrealist, dream like landscape The Ruins and the Piano (1956) created in the same year, the significance of Sudjojono’s relationship to Rose is not represented by an image of the person herself, but the objects that embody her presence in Sudjojono’s life. The grand piano that sits amongst the rubble, scraps and fallen walls is a symbol for his beloved mezzosoprano who owned the instrument at home. Yet while The Ruins and the Piano indicates the internal conflict within the artist, Self-Portrait with Roses is definitively resolved as Sudjojono ultimately gives into his feelings – he holds the bouquet of roses tightly, ready to present them as a symbol of his love.
This simple bundle of roses is executed with careful precision, each petal and bloom radiating with natural beauty. After their marriage, Sudjojono began painting the bouquets Rose received as gifts for her performances as her singing career soon took off. Intimate, modest yet poignant in their message, these still life works celebrated some of the couple’s milestones and anniversaries throughout their married life.
An emotive and compelling masterpiece, Self-Portrait of Roses exhibits Sudjojono’s convictions in a truly vulnerable manner. Several paintings completed during the same period shows the artist’s inner turmoil as he struggled to balance his responsibilities as a political figure newly elected into parliament, and his feelings towards Rose. Ultimately, he resigns and married Rose in 1959. In an interview with Rose, she mentioned that she enjoyed her husband’s self-portraits the most “I love to see how alive and detailed his portrait paintings are” . Self-Portrait with Roses poignantly brings to life the artist’s honest romanticism and passionate soul.
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