Visiting the “Maestro House” of Indonesian Painting

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(Photo: Freddy Wally)

IO – The tragic death of the legendary Indonesian painter Basoeki Abdullah on November 5, 1993, killed by robbers who broke into his bedroom in the middle of the night, shocked many, including the President of the Republic of Indonesia at that time, H.M Soeharto. Basoeki Abdullah himself was not an ordinary artist: in his veins flowed thick artistic blood inherited from his father, Raden Abdullah Suryosubroto, a Javanese aristocrat who worked as a painter and dancer in the palace.

Born in Sriwedari, Surakarta, on January 27, 1915, Basoeki Abdullah was also the grandson of Dr. Wahidin Sudirohusodo, a movement figure famed as a pioneer of youth organizations, Budi Oetomo. The talent for painting shone in him since the age of four. At such an early age, his penchant for drawing sketches of world-famous faces caught the attention of his father and those at his school, Meer Ultgebried Lager Onderwijs (MULO) (Junior high school level now); he also received recognition from Hollands Inlandsche School (HIS), the equivalent of a level of secondary education and above today.

When he was just 10 years old, he wonderfully painted the face of the Indian reformist figure, Mahatma Gandhi, using only a pencil and also plain paper. This talent then led him to study at the Den Haag Academy of Fine Arts, Netherlands, in 1913, for 2 years and 2 months – where he was awarded a Royal International of Art (RIA) award certificate.

His name became increasingly well-known in Europe when he won a painting competition organized by the Kingdom of the Netherlands at the same time as the coronation of Queen Yuliana in Amsterdam, at the beginning of the second half of the 20th Century. You can enjoy the painting at the Basoeki Abdullah Museum in South Jakarta. Besides an academic career of painter in the Netherlands, he studied painting styles at various art schools in Paris and Rome.

Basoeki Abdullah was known as an Indonesian painter in the Mooi Indie style, a realistic portrayal that transforms an object realistically into a painting. Some groups even claimed that Basoeki was so good at painting that he made people more handsome than in photos. In the late 1950s, he was appointed by the Government of Thailand as their official court painter, taking him on a love journey in which he married Thai women twice, Somwang Noi and Nataya Nareerat.

His second marriage, in 1963, lasted until the end of his life; they had one daughter, Sidsatria.

During his lifetime, Basoeki Abdullah was an Indonesian painter in the modern era sought after by many people. “Everyone wants to be painted by him, including my mother,” said Tanya Marinka Alwi, daughter of Des Alwi, a Banda Neira historian and Bung Hatta’s adopted son, some time ago.

His paintings graced valuable collections of both collectors and their families. There are at least 22 countries that have examples of his work, ranging from Singaporean figures such as Lee Kuan Yew to the leader of Brunei Darussalam, Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah.

Basoeki also held solo exhibitions in several countries, including Thailand, the Netherlands, Malaysia, England, Portugal, and Japan. After traveling abroad, in 1974 he decided to settle down in Jakarta. His house in South Jakarta, his residence since the early 1980s, is a witness to his tragic death, and has now been transformed into an official museum about him since the Basoeki Abdullah family handed it over to the Government of the Republic of Indonesia through the Director-General of Culture in 1998. The museum was officially opened by the Minister of Tourism of the Republic of Indonesia, I. Gede Ardika, on September 25, 2001.

The two-floor museum, at one time Basoeki Abdullah’s official residence, is at Jalan Keuangan Raya No.19, RT.7/RW.5, Cilandak, South Jakarta. The museum has undergone rapid development since 2015, with the construction of a new architectural structure next to the old house. Apartfrom showcasing art, this museum is also often used as a place for painting workshops, or other art exhibitions.

There are at least 720 examples of original paintings from Basoeki Abdullah displayed alternately, as well as 11 reproductions. Interestingly, there are three-dimensional paintings of Indonesia’s rare flora and fauna on the wall of the main room in the old house. He was a book collector, and there is a 3,000-volume library, along with journals from Basoeki Abdullah. Other personal items include small statues, masks, puppets, elephant tusks, and various toy weapons.

Basoeki Abdullah’s old residence itself consists of two floors with an area of about 600 m2 and a land area of 450 m2; here lies the memorial ruin or former bedroom of the maestro. Previously there was a swimming pool at the back of this house; now, the former swimming pool functions as a meeting room.

On the second floor, there is also an exhibition room with paintings made by Basoeki Abdullah’s father, Suryosubroto, on display. On the second floor of the new building, there are paintings of heads of state who attended the Non-Aligned Summit held in Jakarta in 1992. In the room there are also paintings of Ibu Tien Soeharto and Ibu Dewi Soekarno. Some of the personal garments that Basoeki Abdullah wore at the end of his life were also displayed on the 1st floor near the memorial room.

Basoeki Abdullah Museum is located near Fatmawati MRT Station, South Jakarta. From this station, visitors can walk to the housing complex which is also the location of the museum. The entrance ticket is IDR 2000 for adults and IDR 1000 for children. Don’t forget to pay attention to the health protocol that applies during your visit. The museum is open every day except Monday from 09.00 to 15.30. (Freddy Wally)