Raden Saleh's Legacy
Lives on in German Town
Raden Saleh Syarif
Bustaman, the grandfather of modern Indonesian art, was the first very Javanese
ever to be educated in Europe in the 19th century.
Every city in Indonesia
has a street named after him, every Indonesian knows his name, although it's
often not more than that. He is commonly known as having been sent to the
Netherlands to study the European style of painting.
But who knows that he
actually spent as much as time in Germany and France, including more than four
years out of that in Dresden and its surroundings.
A few Indonesians in
the know do find their way to the remote village of Maxen, an hour's drive from
Dresden, where the local museum is currently holding the first exhibition about
the period Raden Saleh spent in Saxony. There are also German visitors who have
never heard about the Javanese painter who lived in Germany from 1839 to 1845.
"Raden Saleh should be
paid much greater honor with grand exhibitions in the big museums of Dresden,
Dusseldorf or Berlin, but somehow nobody dares to come up with it," said Jutta
Tronicke said, who came up with the concept of the exhibition which runs until
For a Javanese of today,
Maxen (population 600) might seem to be a little like the end of the world. The
village, located in the middle of nowhere close to Swiss Saxony, is little
touched by the changes of time.
The old knight's estate,
first mentioned in the 14th century, was owned by Major Friedrich Anton Serre
and his wife Friederike at the time Raden Saleh reached Dresden, on the run from
his colonial masters in the Netherlands.
Thanks to the lively
spirit of the Serres, Maxen became a meeting point for the international artist
scene frequenting the salons of Dresden, including composers Robert Schumann and
Franz Liszt, poet Ludwig Tieck and Danish writer Hans-Christian Andersen.
The most exotic member,
though, was most probably the painter from Java.
The story was
fascinating enough to stir the curiosity of two women living in Maxen today, who
helped build up the little town museum.
Although there was
neither enough space nor the funding to get any original painting of Raden Saleh
for the exhibition at the tiny 40-square-meter-museum yet, the two women used
much care and passion to create an interesting and surprising documentation of
Raden Saleh's Saxony sojourn, with many little known pictures, letters and
accessories of and about the painter.
The exhibition presents
the story behind the well-known hero of Indonesian arts, but it is the inclusion
of the little details that make this documentation so remarkable -- details that
even students at Indonesian arts academies never learn.
Prince Raden Saleh had
spent 10 years in The Hague before he came to Saxony. It was in the Dutch city
that the Javanese scholar took on the style of the European dandy, including
keeping an open bills at his tailor, doctor and the bookstore.
When he started having
affairs with local women, the colonial government decided to send the
inconvenient guest on a final trip through Europe, before putting him back on a
ship to his home country.
But the talented
painter was not interested yet in returning to Java, finding the free artist's
life to his liking. And since his stylized war and hunting scenes fulfilled the
desires of the late Romantic period, he did not need to depend on a Dutch
stipend to support him.
through Dusseldorf and Berlin, the artist came to Dresden, where he quickly
entered the artistic salons and noble circles around the king of Saxony, with
his exotic pedigree helping smoothen his way.
He personally and his
art conformed to the European stereotype of the mysterious "orient" --
encompassing everything between Northern Africa and the Far East -- and he duly
obliged by painting huge, fantastic scenes, including the famous image of a
horse attacked by two lions and a snake.
"Europeans find it hard
to present fights and battles, because their nature is another one. Therefore it
is my luck to be an Asian," Raden Saleh wrote in a letter to the Dutch colonial
government in 1841.
His animal fights and
sea storms served the taste of his public: That's how people imagined the wild
orient at that time. Nobody was interested that Javanese knew lions in nature as
few as Germans do, referring to the fact that tigers still roamed the island of
Java at that time.
During his stay in
Dresden, Raden Saleh found his style that he later developed at Horace Vernet in
Paris -- and the necessary items to intensify it. He made many studies at the
stables and the zoo as well as in the royal museum and armory, where he could
spend as much time as he wanted. He loved the landscape around Dresden, like the
unique sandstone formations in the river Elbe valley.
But the real reason the
Javanese stayed such a long time in Saxony was probably due to the friends and
teachers who provided an enduring influence on his life, especially the Serres.
It is clear in the
heartfelt message the painter wrote in the family Bible of his hosts before he
left Maxen: "This as a memory for Major Serre and his wife, whom I love and
respect like my second parents."
Raden Saleh is believed
to have left many portraits and landscape paintings at the Serres' summer
residence at Maxen, but most were lost after WWII or in private collections.
In 1844, Raden Saleh
finally gave in and left Dresden on the orders of the Dutch government --
although he did not go directly to Paris, but spent another year in Coburg.
Even from Paris, he
returned several times to Dresden and Maxen to see his friends, the last time in
1848 when Major Serre built the famous "Blue Mosque" in
to honor his friend.
Three years later,
Raden Saleh returned to Java, but he was never really to enjoy the life he had known
abroad. As a native who had adapted to European lifestyle, he had become a
threat to the colonial lords at Java.
In 1875 Prince Raden Saleh returned to Europe
for a second time, this time with his young wife and a niece. The reason for
this visit which lasted several years was to first of all visit his family - the
family of Dr. Dr. George H. Hundeshagen - as well as his old friend and
Count Ernst II of Sachse-Coburg
and Gotha. This time he stayed at Schloß Rosenau (Rosenau Castle) near Coburg,
to be near his family.
Prince Raden Saleh - a Role Model for our Times
What better role model
for our times to bridge the cultures and represent the traditionally close ties
and ongoing dialogue between Indonesia and Germany but Raden Saleh?
His memorial near the small town of Maxen (close
to Dresden) in Germany, the famous "Blue Mosque" built for Raden Saleh in 1848
still shows his eternal motto left to all of us: "Honor God and Love all Mankind"
in his Javanese handwriting.
Here Prince Raden Saleh
- a Muslim and a descendent of a long line of Muslim teachers in Indonesia
reaching back into the 1600s - echoes his immortal words of intercultural friendship
and understanding which he wrote into the diary of his German friends,
again in his native Javanese handwriting:
"Stay as you are!
Venture on your life's path and honor God and love all mankind! Be a Christian or
a Muslim, some day we all will have to appear before God's throne."