Lot 1060
  • 1060


2,500,000 - 3,500,000 HKD
bidding is closed


  • Portrait of a Balinese Girl
  • Signed and dated 1939
  • Oil on canvas
  • 106 by 115.5 cm; 41 3/4  by 45 1/2  in.


Christie's Singapore, 1 April 2001, Lot 15
Acquired from the above sale by the present owner 
Private Collection, Singapore


Ed. Vittorio Sgarbi, Romualdo Locatelli: Viaggio artistico da Roma, la Citta Eterna, a Bali, I’Isola degli Dei/An artistic voyage from Rome, the Eternal City, to Bali, the Island of the Gods, Associazione Culturale Amici dei Locatelli Figli d’Arte and Skira editore S.p. A., 2019, Milano, Italy, p. 177, color illustration.

Gianni Orsini, Romualdo Locatelli: Eternal Green Under an Eternal Sun, foreword by H.E. Mr. I Gusti Agung Wesaka Puja, and a Preface by Mr. Didier Hamel, Wilco Art Books, 2019, p. 70 and 163, color illustration.


This work is in good overall condition as viewed. There are signs of light wear at the edges of the work due to abrasions with the frame, but this does not affect the overall image. Under bright light, there is faint light craquelure to the surface of the pigment but this is stable and consistent with the age of the work. The canvas has been re-lined. Upon close inspection, there is evidence of pin-sized tiny spots of paint loss at the upper left corner near the tree branch, background near the figure's hair and lower quadrants of the work. Examination under ultraviolet light reveals scattered spots of restoration, notably on the tree branch, figure's proper right hand and headscarf. 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.

Catalogue Note

A paragon of innocence and purity, Portrait of a Balinese Girl is a mesmerising work by Italian-born painter Romualdo Locatelli. Rarely does a figurative piece of this size, from the artist’s Balinese oeuvre come to market. Devoting much of his practice to the art of portraiture, this extraordinary composition embodies Locatelli’s mastery of chiaroscuro: his use of light and shadow is emotive, and his virtuosic brushwork creates incomparable textures. Born to a lineage of artists in Bergamo, Northern Italy in 1905, Locatelli disappeared in Manila in 1943 at the young age of thirty-seven. During his early years in Milan and Rome, the young prodigy gained the admiration of royalty and notable figures throughout Europe including the Benito Mussolini and Pope Pius XI. He received one of the highest honours in his country and painted a commissioned portrait of King Victor Emmanuel II in Rome in 1933 later exhibited at the 1938. Venice Biennale. Locatelli left Rome in 1938, at the height of painting career, and accepted an invitation by a Bandung-based collector to the Dutch East Indies.Although the 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. A picture that harmoniously melds Neo-classicist and late Orientalist aesthetics with Locatelli’s Impressionist roots, Portrait of a Balinese Girl speaks of the maestro’s ability to capture the essence of his subject’s spirit.

The present lot was executed in 1939, the same year Locatelli opened a studio in Batavia to organize his first show in the East, held at the Kunstring in May 1939. News that the official portrait painter of the Vatican and the Italian royal family was to show in Batavia drew many local prominent individuals to the vernissage. Dutch journalist Henri Carel Zentgraff (1874 – 1940) published his review of the Kunstring exhibition: “No issues exist for Locatelli other than the beauty and the abundance of life….There are no complicated voices of a mysterious psyche but rather the pure delight of the sense and the almost tangible revelation of the miracle of light. This is why his art immediately enchants everyone. The gift of artists is in fact the vision of beauty, and this painter’s interpretation of it reveals all its subtle sophistication.”[1] Although he saw great success as a portraitist in Java, Locatelli sought more peaceful horizons. In September 1939 he moved to Bali and opened a studio at Sayan near Ubud, Portrait of a Balinese Girl was likely one of the first masterworks completed upon this pivotal move to the artist’s “paradise”.

Captured with attention and precision, the painting depicts a young Balinese girl, endearingly smiling towards the viewer. Clasping onto the bark of a tree, arms enveloping the trunk, her torso rests tenderly – she is at ease in front of Locatelli, and his brush. Naively, yet gleefully she gazes into the distance, beyond the painter, seemingly at the viewer who she draws in. She wears a traditional cream-coloured head scarf, and is draped in a batik sarong, tightly secured around her slender midriff. The juvenile figure is a mixture of innocence and knowingness, with a wistful glint in her eyes. Locatelli immortalises the young girl, rendering her innocuous gesture and youthful expression with pronounced sensitivity and verisimilitude. 

Set against an ominously dark and fragmented landscape, rays of natural light filter through the ragged clouds, forming a lucid glow around the adolescent figure that contrasts against her dark caramel skin. Locatelli’s artistic methodologies and colour palette saw a distinct change in his Bali paintings. Instead of cloaking his canvases with thick and heavy impastos, as seen in his works from Java, the artist shifted his practice towards a more refined and selective approach. In Portrait of a Balinese Girl, Locatelli depicts his subject by employing smooth and short brushwork, delineating the figure with velvety brown hues that sees the artist using thinner brushes to capture the rays of light that glimmer against the girl’s dewy skin. The attention given to his brushwork, and the most minute of detail creates a tenderness that endears the figure to the viewer.

As observed in the piece, Locatelli builds a textured surface using rich earthy hues for his backdrop, layering varying shades of browns, greens, yellows and whites onto the canvas, employing visibly looser and freer strokes. Using the broken colour technique, in accordance with Impressionist tenets, he daubs differing pigments of paint varying in thickness side by side, leaving the human eye to blend and synthesize them together. This technique creates a viewing experience, as unique as the lot itself – the viewer is left to see some subtle difference with each glance.


Through the adoption of various technical approaches, Locatelli infuses his work with immense painterly depth and an illusion of movement that works to convey a realistic image of a romanticised scene. A modern maestro of chiaroscuro, Locatelli can also be seen to use light as a means of illuminating and intensifying the narrative of the painting to create a kind of theatricality in the work. The backlit illumination illuminates the expanse of the tactile landscape behind the figure, forming an incandescent halo effect around her body. It creates a protruding effect, as if the Balinese Girl is leaning towards the viewer’s space.

Completed less than a year before Locatelli and his wife Erminia fled from the island of Bali to Manila following the outbreak of World War II, Portrait of a Balinese Girl is “testimony to a conversion, almost a state of hypnosis and complete cultural participation” [2]  as highlighted by the Italian art critic and historian Vittorio Sgarbi.  Portrait of a Balinese Girl, is a sublime work from Locatelli’s short-lived time in Bali that unequivocally celebrates a favoured subject of his. Locatelli produces an idiosyncratic pictorial style, that can be seen in this piece which perfectly encapsulates the enrapturing beauty and blossoming adolescence of a young Balinese girl during a seemingly temporal, fleeting moment. The viewer is enthralled by her “hugging a tree as though (she) were part of it, in uncontaminated nature, in the green paradise of childhood.”[3]

[1] H.C. Zentgradd (Z.), Kunst – Romualdo Locatelli Met schilderijen en studies in den Bataviaschen Kunstkring, in Bataviaasch nieuwsblad, n. 133, 6 May 1939, p. 3

[2] Ed. Vittorio Sgarbi, Romualdo Locatelli: An Artistic Voyage from Rome, The Eternal City, to Bali, The Island of the Gods”, Skira, Associazion Culturale Amici Del Locatelli Figli D’Arte, 2019, Milano, p. 32