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Miguel Covarrubias 1904-1957

Photograph of a painting by Miguel Covarrubias.

Princess and Attendant - a Scene from the Ardja

Gouache on paper 10 x 7 inches
Provenance: The artist to Walter Alan Gibbings;
Mrs. Maureen Roach (nee Costelloe), St. Vincent, British West Indies, 1969;
her niece, Mrs. Patricia McHugh
Literature: Miguel Covarrubias, 'Island of Bali', Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 1937; illustrated p.250;
Adriana Williams, 'Covarrubias', University of Texas Press, 1994;

Williams & Yu-Chee Chong, 'Covarrubias in Bali', Editions Didier Millet Pte Ltd, Singapore, 2006, illustrated, a version;
Williams, 'Miguel Covarrubias in Bali', Arts of Asia Magazine, Vol.37, 2007, book plate illustrated p.134.
Exhibited: Exhibition of Watercolours, Pastels, Drawings and Monotypes, Art Institute of Chicago, 1935, a version.


Price on application.

Music, dance, and drama play a major role in the life of the Balinese people. Highly skilled troupes of dancers and musicians perform in the temples on feast days and entertain guests at birthdays, weddings, funerals, and any other event that might warrant an excuse. The Ardja is one of a number of dance and drama traditions and is often referred to as the Balinese opera, perhaps because of the many dramatic arias central to each performance. The traditional plot revolves around romantic stories of the conquests of a flamboyant prince and his princess, intertwined with jocular remarks on current affairs, ad-libbed by the cast. The Ardja opens with the attendant singing the praises of the eternal princess, begging her to appear. Finally persuaded, the princess makes her entrance through the curtain at the side of the stage, which is the scene depicted in the current work. Covarrubias must have held this work in high regard as he chose it for one of the colour plates in his well-known book on Bali.

The same plate adorns the cover of the Periplus Classic current edition of the book, making it one of the most recognisable Covarrubias paintings today. There are slight variations between the illustration and the current  work. For example, the book plate depicts the audience in more detail and shows enhanced decoration on the costume of the princess. However, feint gridlines suggest that the current work is the master copy from which the halftone colour engraving was produced for the 1937 edition. Working from field drawings and sketches, Covarrubias produced many of the paintings for his book on the long ocean journey back to New York. He returned to the subject of the Ardja on a number of occasions and painted a less detailed version in oil, the style of which suggests a slightly later date. 

The current painting has an unbroken provenance tracing back through Walter Alan Gibbings to Covarrubias. Gibbings was born in the 1880s in England. His scientific qualifications brought him around the world. As a chemical engineer he worked in Kobe, Japan; Bombay; Singapore and Bali. He also visited China, Canada and the USA. In 1920 he married Blanche Catherine Selby in St Andrew’s Cathedral in Singapore. In 1955 or thereabouts, his travels took him to St. Vincent in the British West Indies where he was popularly known as Alan Gibbings. By that time, he was a widower without children. On arrival, he rented a house in Villa from Ms. Ena Heuston. Enamoured with life on the island, he built ‘Nala’ on a nearby site purchased from the estate of John Langley Punnett. The house overlooked Young’s Island. St. Vincent reminded Gibbings of Bali, where he had lived in the 1930s. His time there coincided with the arrival of Miguel Covarrubias and the two became good friends.

A neighbour and close friend of Gibbings in St. Vincent  was Mrs Maureen Roach (nee Costelloe), the older sister of Patricia McHugh’s mother, Eithne Punnett (nee Costelloe), who had married Jack Vincent Punnett, a successful planter and owner of the Cane Grove Estate. Maureen and Eithne Costelloe were daughters of Matthew and Annie Costelloe, who had emigrated to Trinidad and Tobago from Ireland where Matthew had been a member of the Royal Irish Constabulary. He had been transferred to Trinidad to establish a detective branch for the local police. In the 1940s, Matthew and his wife retired to a house in St. Vincent and were joined there by Maureen and her husband, Ronald Roach, an Englishman who had worked for Barclay’s Bank in St. Vincent and British Guyana. Maureen helped Alan to set-up ‘Beachcomers’, a Coffee Shop on Grenville Street, Kingstown, opposite Barclays Bank. The venue became a popular meeting place. Alan Gibbings became ill just before the marriage of Patricia Punnett and Niall McHugh in 1969. Alan could not attend the wedding and died soon afterwards. He was cared for during his illness by Maureen Roach. All his possessions, including his two Covarrubias paintings, were left to Maureen who in turn left the paintings to her niece, Patricia McHugh, now living in Ireland. The painting came to us with a copy of Covarrubias's book containing the bookplate of Walter Alan Gibbings.

Links:

Covarrubias Market Analysis
Ardja framed
Gibbings bookplate
Bali plate page 250
Bali book cover
Proprietor Milmo-Penny and Ardja


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