Raden Saleh Sjarif Boestaman was born into a Javanese royal family with Arab descent in Semarang, Central Java. When he was 10 years old, he moved to Batavia (now Jakarta), where he started to make friends with the Dutch, including Bogor Botanic Garden founder, Prof. Caspar Reinwardt. The professor went on to hire him.
At work, Raden Saleh met Belgian painter AAJ Payen, who was visiting Java to paint landscape sceneries as commissioned by the Dutch government. He was amazed by Raden Saleh’s early drawings, and decided to teach him to paint. With AAJ Payen's recommendation and financial support from the Dutch Indies general governor GAGP van der Capellen, Raden Saleh went to Europe to pursue further education in art. In 1829, Raden Saleh arrived in the Netherlands as the first Indonesian artist to receive training in Europe.
He was given the opportunity to study to two objects from two different artists; Cornelius Kruseman, from whom he studied portraiture paintings, and Andreas Schelfhout, who trained him to do landscape paintings.
During his years of study, he began to receive recognition, especially from the barons and royal families. King Willem III of the Netherlands conferred him as “King’s Painter”. Raden Saleh was selected to exhibit his work in the celebrated Rijkmuseum of Amsterdam and in the Hague, where he met a French lion trainer Henri Martin. This meeting was the starting point of Raden Saleh painting Orientalist lions and animal fights, paintings that brought him fame all the way to Western Europe like France and Germany.
Living in the war era, Raden Saleh often exhibited spirit of war in his Romanticism and Orientalist paintings. “His works depicted pride, passion and struggle which best express the social issues at the moment,” says Russell Storer, Curatorial & Collections deputy director of National Gallery Singapore (NGS).
After achieving great success as a famous artist in Europe, Raden Saleh returned to Jakarta in 1852. “We can conclude that Raden Saleh enjoyed the European living, that he didn’t go back to the Dutch Indies right after he finished his study, but rather went to Germany for another five years, and returned to the Netherlands before returning to the home country,” said Syed Muhammad Hafiz, NGS’ assistant curator.
The maestro built his mansion in Cikini, Jakarta with Gothic Revival architecture style as inspired by Callenberg Castle, where he had lived in Germany.
He continued to work as a painting conservator for the Dutch Indies government while making portrait paintings for several Javanese royal families. Upon his return, he also continued to make landscape paintings, but the projects became more dear as what he painted depicted his homeland, the tropical land of Java.
He married Raden Ayu Danudirja in 1867 and settled in Bogor until his death in 1880.
Raden Saleh left a legacy and valuable assets to the country. The street adjacent to his mansion now bears his name as an appreciation to his notable works and his generosity. In 1898, his mansion turned into a private hospital. Fewer than 30 notable paintings are kept in Indonesia, six of them at Istana Negara.
Some of his works are currently on show at NGS, marking its return to Southeast Asia. Paintings are coming from Galeri National Indonesia; Rijkmuseum and Tropenmuseum, Netherlands; Latvian National Museum of Art, Latvia; and Smithsonian Art Museum, USA.
The exhibition at NGS is open for public until 11 March 2018.
Between Worlds is a part of Century of Light, which features two exhibitions on 19th century art. Together with “Colours of Impressionism: Masterpieces from the Musée d’Orsay“, the show displays painting styles and art movements that emerged in Europe during this era, which has proven to be an influential factor to the development of art in Southeast Asia and around the world.