Getting to Know the Meaning of ‘Passion’ from Raden Saleh

A preface,

In the past in the Dutch East Indies, only certain people could go to school. Even private elementary schools seem to have a barrier for students who are not respected. Indigenous people in the Dutch East Indies still did not get equal education.

Raden Saleh was lucky to be born into an aristocratic circle in Java. He is also a Javanese-Arab peranakan who is surrounded by the luxurious lifestyle of Javanese royalty. Raden Saleh was well known among westerners, at that time in the Dutch East Indies there was a clear social divide between whites, Chinese, Arabs, peranakans (indo), and natives that thrived.

Born as a Javanese-Arabic breed, added with blue blood from the Bustaman extended family, Raden Saleh’s position was increasingly immovable. This was further strengthened when he was given the opportunity by the Dutch East Indies government to go to the Netherlands to pursue his passion in the arts, especially painting.

Choosing Europe instead of Returning to Java

Thanks to the support of his acquaintances among the Dutch, A.A.J Payen (Dutch painter) suggested that Raden Saleh be sent to school in the Netherlands. Soon, the Governor-General of the Dutch East Indies immediately agreed, and he lived and studied in the Netherlands, for approximately five years.

At that time Raden Saleh, as a Javanese native, who was new to modern European-style painting techniques, was increasingly involved in his field. His love for painting was tested during the final years of his scholarship in the Netherlands, while he chose Europe over returning to Java. He chose to continue to pursue his passion for the world of art, namely painting in harmony with European beauty.

Had a chance to write an autobiography

In 1839, when he was still young, Raden Saleh had time to write his own autobiography which photographed his life journey while in Europe. The notes then disappeared, but (he said) there are now some that are left. His famous thoughts on the fusion between western (Europe) and eastern (Asia) elements.

In his autobiography, he had time to write a note that went something like this:

…the potential of two polar opposites but both bright and friendly like a powerful magical power that affects my soul. There, the Paradise Garden of my childhood under the scorching sun and the vast roaring Indian ocean. Where my loved ones live and where my ancestors live. Here, Europe, the luckiest countries where art, science and higher education shine like the jewels that captivate the passions of my youth.” — Raden Saleh

Aristocrat with a Romantic Spirit

Raden Saleh is the first pioneer of modern art in Indonesia. Although not many of his works have been discussed in Indonesia, now they are only exhibited for the first time in Indonesia in 2012, at the National Gallery with the title ‘a Short Story of Raden Saleh’.

Pramoedya Ananta Toer called him the First National Individual of Indonesia. His famous phrase is ‘Respect God, Love Human’. During his lifetime, many officials and nobles in Europe admired his work. The legendary story of the creation of the great work ‘The Arrest of Prince Diponegoro (1857)’ was very impressed and meaningful in raising his name.

Response With Works

In the 1850s, Raden Saleh finally returned to the Dutch East Indies. After spending almost twenty years in Europe, where he felt that he was treated like a human, when he returned to his homeland his restlessness overcame him. The gap between whites and natives is very pronounced.

Even though he had been living with the luxury of royalty, he never forgot the fate of his compatriot, the Javanese, because at that time Raden Saleh was still working for the Dutch East Indies government. An event he will never forget when Java was inundated by a great flood. His anxiety is clearly illustrated in his painting ‘a Flood in Java’, where Javanese (indigenous) people have to struggle to save themselves, on their own. One question mark for Raden Saleh: where was the Dutch East Indies government at that time?

One of the duplicates of his painting entitled ‘a Flood in java’ can be seen at the National Kebangkitan Museum today.***

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