The forty grand dollars worth of restoration made way to Raden Saleh’s three paintings. The 1857 realistic painting Penangkapan Diponegoro implies pejorative meaning towards the Dutch colonials.
It is now the most celebrated Indonesian historical artwork, but repairing the damage done after being displayed for several decades in State Palace suggests a mistreatment at the hands of our own.
The first president of Indonesia Soekarno was an art patron at the time when Indonesian art and aesthetics barely received world recognition. His pride of Indonesian artisans went to a point that he appointed state palace official painters such as Basuki Abdullah, and later, Chinese-Indonesian painter Lee Man Fong, whose artworks were displayed in the state palace to make it more like Soekarno’s private art gallery.
The succeeding regime changed much of what the walls in state palace looked like. Many paintings were tossed away, like paintings by Henk Ngantung, a painter-turned-governor of Jakarta in 1964-1965, or carelessly kept in the humid storage room.
Half a century later, Lee Man Fong’s paintings are consistently fetched at exorbitant price at international auctions, arguably the most expensive name among Southeast Asia painters.
Currently it is reported that there are over 20 priceless surviving collection there, which are in talks between government agencies to be exhibited in National Gallery.
Hopefully the public gets the lesson beyond the mere exhibition, a lesson that can turn our attention such as to Henk’s scattered paintings, which his widow had to sold to make a living. The ones yet to be sold face a far more severe condition.