Raden Saleh: Europe, Racism, Fake News
Raden Saleh and the Unexpected European Tour
While working for financial inspector Jean Baptiste de Linge, young Raden Saleh travelled to Europe in 1829. A two-year trip became a twenty-year one. When De Linge returned to the Dutch East Indies in 1931, Raden Saleh stayed “to delve deeper into the sciences of calculus and lithography.” The colonial administration gave him a 2,000-guilder scholarship.
His supporters helped him befriend European painters like Cornelis Kruseman and Andreas Schelfhout. The colonial authority paid his accommodation and board, according to Van Dijk (1986:12–16). This may have been for his safety or because the colonial authorities didn’t know what to do with him.
In Europe, Raden Saleh led Indonesian students in modern education. However, this put him in a difficult position.
Raden Saleh and Dutch East Indies Turbulent Times
Raden Saleh studied the Dutch East Indies in the 1830s, when order was established. Belgium rebelled against the Netherlands after the arduous Java War.
Sending someone back to the colonies with a keen intellect and European education meant expecting a rebellion leader or critical voice. This burdened the colonial government mentally.
Raden Saleh’s Java return was assessed every two years. Colonial officials were often asked: could Raden Saleh return?
Raden Saleh was recommended to study abroad.
He joined grand dukes in Germany in 1839. The Grand Duke of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, Queen Victoria’s husband’s relative, was one of his acquaintances. This dynasty is now the House of Windsor, ruling the UK.
He returned to the Netherlands in 1844 and met King Willem II. When Prince Hendrik the Sailor visited the Dutch East Indies in 1837, he encountered Diponegoro at Makassar. The first Dutch royal to visit the Dutch East Indies was Hendrik.
Carey notes in “Conversations with Diponegoro” (2022) that Prince Hendrik wrote to his father, who wasn’t on the throne, about Diponegoro’s fake detention after seeing him. He afterwards painted a similar complaint.
Willem II made Raden Saleh a court painter and awarded him the Order of the Oak Crown. He then visited France and Algeria.
He nicknamed as the “Javanese Prince” during his French years due to his unusual clothing. His European career ended with the French tour. In 1851, he returned to Java.
Raden Saleh conducted Java archaeological study alongside his paintings. His Royal Institute for Humanities Research membership occurred while in the Netherlands.
He joined Bataviaasch Genootschap, the Batavia Association for Science, as a non-executive member. According to Hans Groot’s “From Batavia to Weltevreden; The Batavia Society of Arts and Sciences, 1778–1867” (2009), the Bataviaasch Genootschap’s management and members consulted him frequently.
Raden Saleh repeatedly ordered to collect archaeological sources or inspect archaeological remnants. He was allowed to collect texts and artefacts in South-Central Java in May 1865.
Raden Saleh collected ancient bones whilst travelling, which European archaeologists like Eugene Dubois studied. Although not officially acknowledged, he helped find the first human remains, which are now part of our mandated history studies.
Europeans respected him, but he had problems. Sergeant N. W. Hoepermans dissented.
Racism, Fake News
The Bataviaasch Genootschap asked Dutch non-commissioned officer Hoepermans to accompany Sanskrit specialist Rudolf Hermann Theodor Friederich in his 1863–1868 inventory of Hindu-Buddhist artefacts in Java.
Hoepermans sensationally accused Raden Saleh of levelling Candi Simping (Sumber Jati Temple) in Blitar in his diary. He blamed “…a mysterious excavation assigned by Raden Saleh in April 1866.”
Who authorised Raden Saleh, a Javanese, to demolish this ancient building?
Willem Frederik Stutterheim, a famous Dutch archaeologist, clarified Hoepermans’ false claims in “A Fusilier from the Previous Century as an Archaeologist” (1925). Stutterheim proved that Hoepermans’ racism prompted him to lie about him.
Hoepermans asked, “Who gave the right” to Javanese Raden Saleh to engage in a colonial exploration expedition that should have been done by European colonial officials.
Raden Saleh’s letters show he was in Yogyakarta on his accusation day. Moving required a permit during colonial times. No record exists of his Blitar voyage.
If Hoepermans’ charge were accurate, it would be rare, and Resident Kediri G. M. W. van der Kaa, Assistant Resident Blitar F. H. Boers, and Regent Blitar Raden Tumenggung Ario Adhi Negoro have not mentioned it.
Overall, Carey and Farish A. Noor (2022:10–11) are right that racism “always lies at the heart of the 19th-century imperial (colonial) development process.” he saw it.
So it seems natural that his artworks secretly revealed his rejection and unique individuality. Openly expressing it politically is not his style and would be social and political disaster.