Century of Light: Rare Masterpieces from 19th Century Europe


Economic changes in the 19th century, like industrialism and modernisation have influenced the art world, and enlightened it to find many forms of contemporary art. Among those, the key art movements are Neo-Classicism, Romanticism, Orientalism, Realism, Impressionism and Neo-Impressionism. These styles quickly spread worldwide that artists from Southeast Asia also follow the trends.

Indonesian artist Raden Saleh is one of these artists. Learning under the supervision of Belgian artist AJ Payen, he was introduced to modern European art. He was sent to Europe to study under Dutch artists Cornelius Kruseman, who helped sharpen Raden’s skill in making portraiture, and Andreas Schelfhout, who trained him to paint landscape. With these skills, Raden mastered Romanticism that often portrays the relationship of men and nature. His fascination to the Orient settings made him one of the best-known Orientalist painters.

On another side of the continent, the Philippines had painter Juan Luna who was best known for his work in Renaissance-inspired Neo-Classicism, and Realism, which counter the idea of Romanticism. Having resided in Madrid, Rome and Paris, he flourished under Spanish painter Alejo Vera and gained his popularity by winning the 1884 First Class Medal in Spain’s annual art exhibition in Madrid.

Back in Europe, Impressionism became more popular by the end of 19th century as a response to modernisation in the city of Paris. It depicted everyday objects with detailed brush strokes that add live to paintings. This period became a golden era for France-based artists, such as Auguste Renoir, Camille Pissaro, Paul Cézanne and the movement’s founder Claude Monet.

The National Gallery Singapore is celebrating this progression in the arts with “Century of Light”. The event features two exhibitions, both of which provide knowledge on modern art history, as well as pleasing eyes of the beholder with rich art pieces. The first exhibition is the “Colours of Impressionism”, which is the first exhibition on Impressionism in Southeast Asia. Sixty masterpieces are brought directly from Musée d’Orsay, Paris for this exhibition, including Monet’s “Le Bassin aux Nymphéas, Harmonie Rose”, among others.

The second exhibition, “Between Worlds: Raden Saleh and Juan Luna” highlights the two painters' journeys in their respective countries, their involvement in the European art scene and finally, their home-coming to Asia. More than 100 paintings were gathered from at least eight museums and city halls in Asia, Europe and the US, besides several private collections with curatorial by the Gallery’s curators Syed Muhammad Hafiz, Clarissa Chikiamco and Russel Storer. Here we can see the best of Raden Saleh’s Romanticism works including “Six Horsemen Chasing a Deer”, which is now a collection of Smithsonian American Art Museum (https://www.si.edu) .

These exhibitions are located at Singtel Special Exhibition Gallery at National Gallery Singapore. They are on show until 11 March 2018.

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Barbara Hahijary
Barbara earned her bachelor's degree in architecture from the Interior Architecture Program of the University of Indonesia in 2013. Historical or heritage buildings, as well as utilitarian design, fascinates her as it is the interaction between people and architecture that remains her favourite topic to explore. Besides architecture, her interests include design, handcrafts, literature and social issues.

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