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How Juan Luna Took On Europe - In Singapore

Metro.Style was fortunate enough to have been taken through the exhibit “Between Worlds: Raden Saleh and Juan Luna” in the National Gallery of Singapore. The exhibit highlights how these artists' European experiences forever changed the way that they viewed and produced art.

Curators Clarissa Chikiamco, Russell Storer, and Syed Muhammad Hafiz bring these two artists' masterpieces art together for the very first time in a gallery that tells the story of two artists from the east forging their names in the west, then the rest of the world, during the 19th century. Both artists helped spur the beginnings of modern art in their respective countries, with Saleh leading the movement in Indonesia with his Arab-Javanese paintings, and Luna in the Philippines with his politically charged paintings that depicted his countrymen's sentiments and convictions during the Philippine Revolution.

The featured works of art were borrowed from private and public collections from around the world, each painstakingly transported from their original homes to the National Gallery. The exhibit will continue to run until March 2018, and until you get a chance to visit it yourself, here are a few points of interest for you to know about each artist, according to Clarissa Chikiamco and other research:


Raden Saleh

1. Raden Saleh attended many animal shows in Europe that featured wild beasts and their human tamers performing staged acts of drama and attack. These experiences inspired him to paint many works that he would mostly be remembered for: horsemen out on the hunt, and animals in ferocious battles with each other. He spent considerable time studying the anatomy of his animal subjects, allowing him to paint them in great, realistic detail.

Lion Hunt by Raden Saleh


Wounded Lion by Raden Saleh


2. Belgian artist A.J. Payen was partly responsible for Saleh's success. Acknowledging his talent, Payen convinced the Dutch colonial government (which at the time governed Java in the Dutch East Indies, or what we now know as modern-day Indonesia) to send him to Europe where he could further hone his skills. He studied portraiture and landscapes, and was accepted in many European courts to do royals' portraits. With his rising fame, Saleh became the first indigenous Indonesian to be initiated into Freemasonry.

Raden Saleh at the National Gallery of Singapore


3. Saleh's European influences extended to his design sensibilities. Having come home from the Netherlands, the now prolific artist respected by the Dutch and Indonesians alike went to settle in Cikini, then moved to Bogor, where he married aristocratic woman Raden Ayu Danudirdja. The couple's home was fashioned after the stately Callenberg Castle and other European palaces, complete with vast gardens and grounds surrounding it. Upon his death, his home was converted into a state building and his grounds into public gardens.

4. His most famous painting is arguably The Arrest of Pangeran Diponegoro. The painting depicts the betrayal of rebel leader Prince Diponegoro during the civil unrests of Indonesia's Dutch colonial government. Just like his Philippine cotemporary Luna, colonialism was often a theme in his most impressive works of art. Through his interpretations of historic national events, it is said that Saleh's art also helped spark a sense of nationalism in colonized Indonesians. His works were also one of the first to accurately portray Indonesians to the rest of the world whom most western artists painted with more Arab features and clothing.

The Arrest of Pangeran Diponegoro by Raden Saleh


Shipwreck in Storm by Raden Saleh


Javanese Temple in Ruins by Raden Saleh


Juan Luna

1. Artist Juan Luna was a bit of a joker, or a bit wily, depending on how you look at it. At least, that’s what Chikiamco told us. “From childhood he was showing an interest in art but his parents--like many parents of today--wanted him to take a practical profession. He went to nautical school. This was something not approved by his parents, either . . . [But nautical school] was a ‘trick’ to accustom them from being separated from him.” He travelled around the region. Luna’s older brother Manuel joined him in nautical school. The two also went to Europe together, and from there Luna’s career took off.

Juan Luna in his studio by Edouard Fiorillo


2. Jose Rizal, a friend of Luna’s, wrote about him: “Luna’s past is short. It is the story of a plant hidden in the ground which forces the passage to the light in spite of a thousand difficulties.” This sums up Luna’s struggles, beginning in Ilocos Norte where he was born, to Manila, and then abroad. It is a beautiful way to think of Luna’s training as an artist. Rizal further wrote: “This Manuel, he was a violinist--and so he would hear harmony in the waves. Luna saw light, tones and colors.” Chikiamco thought it was only appropriate to include some of Rizal’s words in the exhibit to show, among other things, how beloved Luna really was to his peers; and a view of one famous Filipino artist about another.

Juan Luna at the National Gallery of Singapore


Juan Luna at the National Gallery of Singapore


Nena y Tinita by Juan Luna

Avant-Garde by Juan Luna


3. Luna is most well known for Spolarium, which won the first class medal in Spain’s national exhibition in 1884. But before Spolarium he actually won a 2nd class medal in Spain’s national exhibition for his work The Death of Cleopatra, an arresting work depicting Cleopatra’s suicide - with the asp that bit her crawling behind a pillar and 2 ladies’ maids also in the throes of death.

The Death of Cleopatra by Juan Luna


Curator Clarissa Chikiamco standing in front of Luna's The Death of Cleopatra at the exhibit 


4. One of Luna’s most popular paintings is España y Filipinas, which he made 3 of.  One - according to Ambeth Ocampo in an article - reguarly resides in the Lopez museum in Ortigas, the other in a museum in Cadiz, Spain and the third is unallocated. 

Luna started to get recognition and became well known during this time. The work was reproduced in one of the Spanish publications and entitled, “Quadro del Artisto Filipino” or "Painting by A Filipino artist." This is significant because the term Filipino at the time actually meant Spaniards that were born in the Philippines—what we think of today as just Indio. "In this time in the 19th century, then, there was a changing idea of what the word meant. It also shows a nationalism that was happening in the 19th century," said Chikiamco.


España y Filipinas by Juan Luna 


España y Filipinas by Juan Luna (Lopez Museum)

España y Filipinas by Juan Luna side by side at the National Gallery of Singapore


5. España y Filipinas  is an idealized allegory of the relationship Spain and the Philippines--where Spain leads the Philippines up these steps leading to the light. Spain was declining as a colonial power in this period and it had lost a lot of its colonies in the Americas in the early part of the 19th century. Said Chikiamco: "You also had a figure like Victor Balaguer who was the head of the overseas ministry, which spanned governed its overseas territories or colonies. And Balaguer was really obsessed with the Philippines. He thought that Spain’s future laid with the Philippines, which was one of Spain’s most distant colonies. One of the meanings of dispersion of the Spanish Philippines territories, in this version of the Spanish-Filipina painting; the meaning of the steps will always be open to interpretation. So we can also look at it as Spain possibly needing the Philippines. It’s a different perspective."


BETWEEN WORLDS: RADEN SALEH & JUAN LUNA is showing until March 18th at the National Gallery of Singapore, Singtel Special Exhibition Gallery C, 1 St. Andrew's Rd, Singapore 178957.

Opening hours: 10am–7pm, Saturday to Thursday, 10am–9pm, Friday

For more information, click here.