Hendra Gunawan: An Idyllic Village Landscape

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Hendra Gunawan was born in 11th June 1918 in Bandung – East Java, Dutch East Indies (Indonesia). He was born to Raden Prawiranegara and Raden Odah. From his career as a painter, Hendra was famously recognized for his caricaturist, colorful style of painting on low status society and activity that draws on an Expressionist background. Together with other maestros, Hendra established a community of painters that was called ‘Kelompok Lima’ or Five Groups, consisting of Affandi, Barli, Hendra Gunawan, Sudarso, and Wahdi. Considered as an autodidact, Hendra Gunawan also acquired his skills by self-study and learnt from his friends and other artists youth, he studied and explored a lot of facets of Indonesian painters at the time such as the expressionist Affandi (1907 – 1990) and the landscape—panoramic painter Wahidi Sunanta.

In 1938 Hendra Gunawan (1918-1983) actively guided and taught the youths of Indonesia who were passionate in learning the arts of painting and sculpting, and he also organized art and cultural events at Pusat Tenaga Rakyat (PUTERA) under the leadership of three Indonesian national figures and heroes known as Tiga Serangkai: Soekarno, Moh. Hatta, and K.H. Mas Mansyur. He was a lecturer at the Indonesian Fine Art Academy (ASRI) in Jogjakarta in 1957. At the same time, Hendra Gunawan also involved in the establishment of LEKRA (Lembaga Kebudayaan Rakyat) or People’s Institution of Culture. LEKRA was immensely associated to the ideology of PKI (Partai Komunis Indonesia) or Indonesian Communist Party. After only eight years of his activity in LEKRA, the bloody massacre of 10th September 1965 movement imploded upon his country – Indonesia inflicting he was imprisoned in 1965 after the banned PKI party was accused to be a party on coup attempt against Soekarno’s government.

Hendra Gunawan was imprisoned in jail, located in Kebon Waru – Bandung – West Java and the artist was incarcerated from 1965–1978. During passing his life in the prison he kept on painting and creating his works by using the rough canvases with subjects reflecting the lower-class society’s struggle, patience for a harmonized family, and other social life’s activities. His oeuvres executed in behind bars were mostly signed with his typical name’s signature, and date of creation with a mark “KW” as an acronym of Kebun Waru, the name of the prison house when the artist passed his life at that time. In 1978, Hendra was released from the prison, and he actively painted until the end of his life.

The genre of the present painting encompasses both amazing mountains and idyllic village environment accompanied with activity of villagers. Entitled to ‘An Idyllic Village Landscape’, the present work was painted by Hendra Gunawan in 1981, three years after the artist was released from the prison. The focal point and subject on the present work is emphasized on an idyllic village environment located in the valley of mountains and plants referinh to an artwork whose primary focus is natural scenery, such as mountains, cliffs, trees, river, and valleys that artist presented to the viewers. The artist imbued the bucolic houses under the mountainous scene showing that a woman climbs a high stone stairway. Meanwhile, the other woman washing the cloth is depicted in the river and a shower under the old tree. Applying the vivid colors with various shades, the painting renders the mountainous landscape in nice view and tranquil. The painting is marked with ‘Hendra’ signature and the year of creation ‘81’ at the lower right.

The subject on the present Hendra’s painting is impressive that emerges a natural view animating the happiness and bustle of rural community. Hendra provided that tracing the evolution of landscape representation allows the discovery of diverse artistic style, diverse worldviews, and diverse and shifting attitudes towards interactions with the outside world. Hendra therefore believes that looking at paintings of mountains is good for the soul. During his career, the repetition of the same subject, decorative elements and poses of figures on the present painting appear in his works. Certainly, the repetition of each his works may vary slightly in brush details due to the nature of being hand painted so no two painting are exactly the same. For example, compare with the similar subject (83.5 x 95 cm), entitled ‘Banyan Tree (Pohon Beringin)’ painted in 1964, from Ciputra Artpreneur, published and illustrated in A Great Modern Indonesian Painter, Agus Dermawan T, Ir. Ciputra Foundation, Jakarta, 2001, p. 79 (See fig. 1). Hendra also painted the landscape subjects on his works. For example, entitled ‘Majestic Landscape’, was sold at Sotheby’s Hong Kong, 5th October 2013, Lot. 450, for HKD1,600,000, initially estimated between HKD720,000 – 920,000 (See fig. 2). Another, entitled ‘Landscape’ was sold at Sotheby’s Hong Kong, 3rd April 2016, Lot. 376, for HKD 7,520,000, initially estimated between HKD 2,000,000 – HKD 3,000,000 (See fig. 3).


  1. Hendra Gunawan, A Great Modern Indonesia Painter, Agus Dermawan T, Ciputra Artpreneur, Jakarta, 2015, p. 79.


Hendra Gunawan