Sunday, June 24, 2007

A Word of Caution...

The old saying goes: "Imitation is the highest form of flattery..."

Well, not in our case.

We are very much aware that forgeries and fakes, as they are called in Asia, is a thriving business trying to defraud unsuspecting art collectors.

Quite often reports of fake paintings reach us, mostly preceded by a request to evaluate a painting and state it's authenticity.

Meanwhile we also receive reports of fake certificates, where our certifications and certificates of authenticity are being forged. Persons with clearly criminal intend are using our name and our reputation, while hoping to find an art collector foolish or just greedy enough to buy the (fake) painting associated with it.

Please, do not be misled.

Only if you receive a certificate of authenticity directly from the Prince Raden Saleh Society, can you rest assured that it is the genuine article.

Only if you purchase a painting from the Prince Raden Saleh Society or our associated galleries and museums can you be sure to participate in increases in value accordingly.

When in doubt - do not hesitate and ask us.

Below you can see a forged certificate illegally using our name and our registered trade mark while trying to defraud the public. Needless to say there is not such "Het Kunts Keldertje"

The following article appeared in KOMPAS some time ago, and gives you a glipmse why it is prudent to contact us first.

Raden Saleh and the Indonesian Art Boom

In 1996 the Indonesian art scene was shocked by the appearance of a stolen Raden Saleh painting in Christie's October Singapore auction catalogue. This was one of the "side effects" of the record-breaking sale of Raden Saleh's "Deer Hunt" the previous March. Since the first sales of Indonesian art, both in the Netherlands and in Singapore, Raden Saleh's paintings have always been considered significant in one way or another. In early 1998, the previously stolen Raden Saleh greeted visitors at an exhibition of the Department of Education and Culture's collection.

Over and over again, the works of Raden Saleh have served as landmarks in the development of Indonesian art appreciation throughout the Indonesian art boom of 1987-1997. In this article I wish to convey in a narrative manner the ways in which Raden Saleh's paintings have indeed signified that development.

One bright Sunday morning in early September 1996 I visited a sculpture exhibition at the Department of Education's Exhibition Hall at Gambir, Central Jakarta. As I was about to leave, a staff member handed me some of the department's old catalogues that were about to be thrown away.

One of the catalogues concerned a 1988 exhibition held in preparation of Indonesia's long-awaited Wisma Seni Nasional (National Art Gallery). A page of the catalogue had been torn out, and so, when taking the book in hand it would always open right at the page next to the torn one. The missing page just happened to be the biographical data of Raden Saleh and opposite was the portrait of a Dutch official now owned by the Department of Education and Culture.

By sheer coincidence, Christie's October 1996 catalogue of Indonesian paintings arrived in my office mail the next day. I immediately took a quick glance at the paintings included in the sale. It was not until the next day, however, that I realized that the Raden Saleh painting offered by Christie's was exactly the same painting which appeared in the 1988 catalogue of the National Art Gallery.

That Tuesday I had arranged to take guests from a Japanese museum to meet Sudarmadji Damais, director of the Jakarta History Museum. I took the occasion to show the piece to him. He recognized the painting as the couple depicted in the portrait in the collection of his museum.

Later that day, a staff member of the Department of Education and Culture wanting to do research also came to the Jakarta History Museum. The department had received a report from the estate of Basoeki Abdullah that one of the painter's works which was supposed to be in the custody of the National Museum had appeared in the Christie's catalogue as well. It became clear that some paintings had been stolen from the National Museum.

The incident received strong response from the press after the story was leaked by art journalist Agus Dermawan T. An article about the theft appeared on Thursday on the front page of the daily Kompas. Agus knew about the appearance of the Basoeki Abdullah painting in the Christie's sale from the painter's estate but initially did not know about the theft of the other paintings. However, a Jakarta Post reporter who was tipped about the affair and eager to obtain confirmation from anyone who knew more about the matter called Agus and asked him about the painting by Raden Saleh. The reporter's question thus tipped the writer about the theft of "Dutch Official Wearing the Willem's Order." Agus had an even better story about the scandal to present to the press.

The Minister of Education and Culture and his staff immediately tried their best to get the stolen works back. The director of the National Museum, who is also an official in the department, was dispatched to Singapore the following week to retrieve the paintings. Christie's assisted as best as it could. It was Christie's policy not to disclose the name of the vendor of the paintings; nevertheless, the auction house tried to persuade the vendor to hand the paintings back to the Department of Education and Culture. Christie's handled the negotiations between the department and the vendor's lawyer. The talks resulted in the vendor's agreeing to return the paintings on the condition that the department drop any charges against him. The vendor of course claimed that he was unaware of the fact that the paintings he tried to sell through Christie's were stolen merchandise.

In Jakarta both the Department of Education and Culture and Christie's separately held press conferences announcing the return of the two paintings. For the most part, the press deemed that Christie's should be accountable for the incident. Many thought that Christie's experts should have known that the paintings were owned by the Department of Education and Culture. Some even thought that Christie's attempted to sell the works even though they may have suspected questionable provenance. Others realized that if no attempt had been made to sell the works through a public auction, the Department of Education and Culture and the general public would not have learned about the theft at the National Museum as early as they did and might never have seen the paintings again. "Thanks to Christie's, we know that these paintings had been stolen! If they had not appeared in the Christie's catalogue, we might not have known where they had ended up," exclaimed Sudarmadji Damais, director of the Jakarta History Museum.

As it turned out, there were not two but five paintings from the National Museum that were going to be offered by Christie's. More surprisingly, it was later learned that there were not five but rather twenty-five paintings stolen from the National Museum in Jakarta. The department eventually managed to get back all of the stolen paintings. The mastermind of the theft was never caught, but in mid May 1997 the two staff members of the National Museum who were involved in the crime were put on trial, and if found guilty could be sentenced to up to seven years in prison.

Who is actually to blame for the theft of the paintings from the National Museum is perhaps irrelevant at this point. To know and understand what caused the theft of the paintings seems to be more useful than to point fingers.

One of the most interesting facts related to the theft in the National Museum is that the works of the 19th century Indonesian painter Raden Saleh are closely related to the development of the Indonesian art market and the appreciation of art in Indonesia. On the one hand, the Raden Saleh paintings that have appeared on the market can be used to gauge the market's strength. On the other hand, development in the Indonesian art market has heightened public awareness regarding the significance of Raden Saleh's works.

To fully comprehend why the paintings were stolen from Jakarta's National Art Gallery, the incident should be seen within the context of the Indonesian art boom. Many observers agree that Indonesian art experienced a boom for about a decade lasting from the end of 1987 to the end of 1997.

Parallel to liberalization in the banking sector around 1987-88, the Indonesian fine arts scene became tremendously festive. Though a number of new galleries opened in Jakarta at that time, the center of Indonesian art was Bali. At the suggestion of the painter Rudolf Bonnet in the 1970s, Suteja Neka, a former school teacher, established his Museum Neka in 1985. This museum, which represented a rather comprehensive view of the development of Indonesian fine arts, become the most prominent art museum on Bali, if not in the whole country.

Balinese galleries, especially the Neka Gallery and Agung Rai Gallery, developed rapidly. A number of Indonesian businessmen earning huge profits as a result of liberalized banking started to collect paintings. They visited the Balinese galleries and hunted for the best works of art. It is said that in 1988 a businessman connected to Indonesia's first family bought eight paintings from a gallery in Bali for a total of Rp1.2 billion (at that time US$800,000). The Indonesian art boom had definitely begun.

In 1989 the Dutch auctioneer Jan Pieter Glerum noticed that there was considerable interest in art from Indonesia and decided to enter the market. As early as 1990 his auction house offered a work by Raden Saleh entitled "The Eruption of Mount Merapi." It sold for NF25,000.

Christie's finally discovered the developments in the Indonesian market and began auctioning Indonesian paintings in 1992. Sotheby's followed and also entered the Southeast-Asian art market.

The financially stronger Christie's began sales in Singapore in 1994 based on its having noticed strong market development in the region. Christie's business estimations and timing turned out to be correct. Raden Saleh's "The Eruption of Mount Merapi," previously sold at the 1990 Glerum auction, appeared in Christie's debut sale in Southeast-Asia and was sold for S$280,000. This meant that the painting had increased in value by more than a factor of twelve in the course of approximately four years.

On the basis of that success, Christie's held two auctions the following year, increasing their sales more than threefold compared to the previous year. In Christie's March 1995 auction in Singapore, a rather bland Raden Saleh landscape was offered and sold for S$550,000. At each of the first three Singapore auctions, the Raden Salehs set record prices for the artist. Within five years, the average value of the Raden Saleh paintings had increased by more than a factor of twenty.

It was at Christie's Singapore auction in March 1996 that the sale of Raden Saleh's works reached its peak. The 19th century painter's oversized "Deer Hunt" was sold for an astonishing hammer price of S$2.8 million. The price achieved a record for Southeast-Asian painting while marking the peak of the Indonesian art boom. Due to this remarkable sale, which also made the front page in the country's leading daily Kompas, the general public in Indonesia suddenly became aware of the value of paintings. The importance of Raden Saleh as a painter could also be more easily appreciated since a tangible monetary value could be attached to his works.

It seems, however, that the achievement of this record price also led to certain negative developments. Crime in the field of art increased markedly. Raden Saleh's "Dutch Officer Wearing the Willem's Order," which was stolen from the National Museum, appeared in Christie's October catalogue of Indonesian paintings that year. It can be assumed that the theft occurred not long after the sale of "Deer Hunt."

Due to bureaucracy as well as to other institutional obstacles, the Department of Education and Culture and the National Museum were unfortunately not responsive enough to the Indonesian art boom. As a result they failed to take a strategic position to ensure that the museum would become the leading institution in the field of fine arts. So, instead of creating an art museum or taking advantage of their vast collection to assemble interpretive exhibitions of Indonesian art, their collections remained neglected in storage.

Tempted by the huge profits that can be gained from the sale of the master's works at such high prices, the mastermind of the theft persuaded some museum employees to hand over, for a fee, some of the collection's works which had been in storage for almost a decade.

The fee the employees got can be calculated based on Christie's estimates for the paintings. The stolen Basoeki Abdullah painting was estimated at S$8,000 - 12,000, or Rp13.6 - 20.4 million. Considering the strong market at the time, we can assume that the work was expected to sell at around Rp20 million. Discounting commissions and expenses, the vendor's net earnings would have been about Rp12 million. On this basis, the mastermind likely gave the museum employees a maximum of one fifth of the expected net revenue, or Rp2.4 million, for the piece.

The Raden Saleh painting was estimated at S$100,000 - 170,000, or Rp170 - 255 million. We would expect this damaged piece to sell for a little under the lower estimate. Minus commissions and expenses, the expected net revenue from this work was likely around Rp80 million. For this particular piece, the mastermind would have given a maximum of Rp10 million.

However, it is almost certain that the mastermind of the theft got the twenty-five paintings as a lot. As the lot would consist of paintings of different qualities, sizes and conditions, let's say the entire lot of twenty-five paintings were obtained for under Rp30 million. We can assume that the theft was a conspiracy between two employees familiar with the museum storage and a security guard, whose monthly salaries were around Rp300,000 including benefits. If this is correct, then the Rp10 million fee per person for the job would have been considered substantial, as it was likely to be more than thirty times their monthly salaries.

In the May 1997 theft trials, the dailies Media Indonesia and Jayakarta reported that the two National Museum staff members had initially (in March or April 1996) sold three paintings by Affandi for Rp6 million following the mastermind's offer of Rp3 million for each painting. They offered Raden Saleh's "Dutch Officer Wearing the Willem's Order" to the mastermind for Rp5 million in April. The museum staff members sold twelve more for a sum of Rp9 million. It was determined that between March and September 1996 the two National Museum staff members had assisted in the theft of seventeen paintings from the National Museum and eight from other proprietors kept in the museum.

The employees involved in the theft may have thought that, since the paintings were neglected anyway, what the mastermind was asking them to do could not be deemed too serious a crime. Thus they took the paintings and handed them over to him. They figured that what they did would make everybody happy: they themselves got a considerable amount of money for a relatively easy job, the mastermind got the paintings he wanted, and the museum was freed from the burden of having to take care for the works.

The other negative development following the sale of "Deer Hunt" is the appearance of an even greater number of forged paintings on the market. It seems that following the record-breaking sale an increasing number of people have begun to realize that high prices can be demanded for paintings. Along with a growing number of new collectors, a rise in the number of works saturating the market is also evident. Among the great number of paintings being offered in the market are many fakes.

The Southeast-Asian art auctions in Singapore produced some rather questionable works attributed to Raden Saleh. Although further research needs to be done on the authenticity of those works, it can not be denied that many scholars and observers of Raden Saleh's work doubt they are the works of the 19th century Indonesian master. Some of the works are done with considerable mastery of 19th century technique, and it is highly probable that Raden Saleh forgeries have originated in Holland and other European countries.

It seems that Raden Saleh's paintings have made it financially worthwhile for some European master forgers to produce fakes of his works. Speaking generally about forging Indonesian art, pioneering auctioneer Jan Pieter Glerum observed that the most convincing forgeries of pre-war Indonesian paintings were done in Europe, particularly in Holland, while the most convincing post-war Indonesian forgeries have been done in Indonesia. If this were indeed the case, then it would be safe to assume that the best forgeries of Raden Saleh's work were done in Europe. This means that scholars and students of Raden Saleh need to take extra precautions when studying the works of the master, since the art of forgery in Europe is quite developed.

The high prices that the works of Raden Saleh have managed to fetch in Indonesian and Southeast-Asian art auctions in Singapore have sparked an increase in the number of art crimes in Indonesia, including art theft and art forgeries.

On the other hand, the record-breaking sale of "Deer Hunt" and the theft of "Dutch Official Wearing the Willem's Order" from the National Museum have also contributed to a heightened awareness of the significance of Raden Saleh's works, both among art collectors and in the public at large.

Awareness of the increasing value of the paintings by the 19th century Indonesian master have lured collectors who already had the painter's works in their possession to sell. Meanwhile, the auction houses are quite aware that collectors who do not yet have a Raden Saleh are eager to buy.

In the Southeast-Asian art auctions in March 1997, Christie's and Sotheby's offered a total of four paintings by Raden Saleh. Of those, Christie's sold "Lions Fighting a Snake Outside a Grotto in a Tropical Landscape" for S$1.8 million, while Sotheby's sold "Lions and Tigers Fight over a Dead Horse" for S$700,000.

The theft at the National Museum seems also to have served as a reminder that there is an urgent need to create a National Art Gallery. This has been under discussion since the 1950s. In February 1998, marking the eleventh anniversary of their Exhibition Hall in Gambir, Central Jakarta, the Department of Education and Culture presented a huge exhibition of their vast collection. Placed right in front of the entrance to greet visitors was Raden Saleh's once stolen work "Dutch Official Wearing the Willem's Order." Another Raden Saleh, "Ship Wreck," was also exhibited in this show. Yet again, Raden Saleh's paintings play an important role in the development of Indonesian art appreciation.

In a seminar held in conjunction with this exhibition, art critic and curator Jim Supangkat revealed the Department of Education and Culture's plans to establish the National Art Gallery. Finally, the department has decided to take a bold step toward becoming a leader in supporting understanding and appreciation of Indonesian fine arts.

Many significant events and incidences occurred throughout the Indonesian art boom, and the paintings of Raden Saleh highlighted the most important cases.

During the rapid pace of development, little if any time was dedicated to proper research, analysis and interpretation of Indonesian art in general. While the collectors competed to get the most sought-after paintings, Raden Saleh being at the top of the list, the general public also became interested in works of Raden Saleh, intrigued by the prices they were fetching at the auctions.

Fortunately, the boom did manage to attract the pursuit of broader and deeper knowledge of Indonesian fine arts. Furthermore, the legacy of Raden Saleh has proven impressive, and hence there remains a strong enthusiasm among the general public with regard to this important figure in the development of Indonesian art.. It is certain that Raden Saleh and his works will be among the foremost subjects of research in the field of Indonesian art..

After all, Raden Saleh is considered to be the first truly Indonesian painter, hence "The Father of Indonesian Painting."

Although many students of Indonesian art may already know the painter's life story, proper research regarding his significance is still relatively limited. An interpretive exhibition dedicated to the works of Raden Saleh will most certainly be welcome.

Below you can see a forged certificate illegally using our name and our registered trade mark while trying to defraud the public. Needless to say there is not such "Het Kunts Keldertje"

1 comment:

Amir Sidharta said...

• mohon kreditasi penulis. tks