The Southeast Asian Art File

2 Indonesian oil paintings withdrawn from auction


AUCTION house Christie's has withdrawn two oil paintings by top Indonesian masters slated to be sold here next month, following reports that they were stolen from a museum in Jakarta.

The paintings in question are 19th-century Raden Saleh's Portrait Of A Dutch Governor Wearing The Willems Order dated 1867, and famous portrait painter Basoeki Abdullah's undated work A Nude.

Basoeki's Nude
Basoeki Abdullah, Nude, undated

They were among 160 South-east Asian works worth a total of about $3.4 million scheduled to go under the hammer at Hyatt Regency Singapore on Oct 6.

But a press statement from Christie's Singapore last Friday confirmed that the two paintings would be removed from the sale after a Kyodo news agency report, quoting Indonesian newspapers, said they were stolen from the National Museum in Jakarta.

According to the report, the paintings were owned by the Indonesian government and were kept temporarily at the museum.

Its officials and the police were said to be still investigating.

The report also quoted the secretary of the late Basoeki as saying that she discovered the theft of A Nude only a few days ago after she saw it printed in Christie's catalogue for the Singapore sale.

In the catalogue, distributed to potential buyers here and the region at the beginning of the month, Christie's had estimated Raden's work at between $100,000 and $150,000, and Basoeki's at between $8,000 and $12,000.

Christie's general manager Irene Lee told Life!: "As questions have been raised about the paintings, we are withdrawing them from the sale."

She said she learnt about the theft only after the Indonesian papers reported it last week.

Mrs Lee felt that museums or other institutions which have their valuable artworks stolen should make them known so that art dealers and auction houses could be alerted.

As South-east Asian artworks were not as well-documented as European paintings, she said it was difficult to ensure that no stolen paintings would make it to art auctions here.

"Often, we have to assume that the sellers of the paintings are, indeed, their owners," she explained.

Agreeing, Sotheby's Asia director Quek Chin Yeow said: "We have to take them in good faith. We deal with hundreds of paintings every year and we can't go on suspecting that the seller of a good piece of work may have stolen it from someone or a museum when it is offered to us for sale."

He pointed out, however, that the protection that art auctions offered against the passing on of stolen goods was the publicity they generated.

"They are published in auction catalogues and, therefore, culprits can be found easily," he said.

Mr Chan Kok Hua, managing director of Associated Fine Arts Auctioneers, said: "We can only try our best to trace the history of a painting but the present system is still not foolproof."

Christie's declined to comment further on the fate of the two paintings, or reveal the identity of the vendors of the works.

These two paintings are not the first withdrawn from a Christie's sale here.

Two others -- Dutch painter Rudolf Bonnet's A Seated Indonesian Man in colour chalk and Singapore pioneer artist Georgette Chen's oil Peking Scene -- were taken out in 1994 and in March this year, respectively, after their authenticity was questioned.

Paintings by Raden, who is regarded as the Rembrandt of Indonesia and Basoeki, who is well-known for his portraits of beautiful women, the famous and powerful, have been very popular at art auctions here recently.

Raden's Deer Hunt, a huge oil painting, became the most expensive piece of art ever sold here when it went for $3.08 million at a Christie's auction in March.

Basoeki, who died three years ago at age 78 -- he was shot dead after a robbery at his Jakarta home -- made headlines in the art scene here when a Singapore collector donated 27 of his drawings worth $200,000 to the Singapore Art Museum in 1994.

reproduced WITHOUT PERMISSION (;->) from the Straits Times, October 23, 1996

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