• Southeast Asian Modern and Con auction at Christies

    Sale 2857

    Southeast Asian Modern and Contemporary Art

    30 May 2011, Hong Kong, HKCEC Grand Hall

  • Lot 1798

    THEO MEIER (Switzerland 1908-1984)

    Balinese Girls with Offerings

    Price Realised  


    THEO MEIER (Switzerland 1908-1984)
    Balinese Girls with Offerings
    signed and dated 'Theo Meier 62' (lower left)
    oil on canvas
    35½ x 29½ in. (90 x 75 cm.)
    Painted in 1962

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    The beginning of the 20th century saw the budding of the nascent form of Western tourism in Bali which eventually developed into the flourishing of the island as one of the favorite destinations for travelers today. It was the arrival of the elites and intelligentsia at the beginning, the likes of writers, artists, photographers and film makers who would propagate the notion of Bali as 'the enchanted island' where indigenous culture is kept alive and relevant despite the arrival of modernity. It was this lure of the Orient with the promises of beautiful landscape and women and an exotic lifestyle that attracted many artists from the West to Bali in the first quarter of 20th century and by 1942, when the Japanese occupied Bali, one observed a western artistic community congregating on the island. Amongst them were the renowned Walter Spies (Germany 1895-1942), Adrien-Jean Le Mayeur de Merprès (Belgium 1880-1958), W. G Hofker (The Netherlands 1902-1981) and Theo Meier (Switzerland 1908-1984).

    The artists in this community brought along with them different styles and techniques bonded only by an unquenchable thirst to the beauty and the exotic which they found in Bali. Quite a few amongst them were influenced by the form of Primitivism espoused by Paul Gauguin (France 1848-1903) which propounded the search of a pure and innocent civilisation/community untainted by modernity as an inspiration to his artistic expression. In Theo Meier's own words "When I arrived in Tahiti, I was very disappointed that the culture I had dreamed about no longer existed there, but I did observe the components that Gauguin had used to build up his beautiful paintings. He showed me tropical Nature, and this influenced me so enormously that I began looking for a place where perhaps more culture had survived, but in the same natural setting. That place was Bali. There I was shaped, and became what I am today."

    The affinity with Paul Gauguin is apparent in Theo Meier's adaptation of the stylistic language of primitivism which is characterized by exaggerated body portions, geometric designs and stark contrasts in colours. Balinese Girls with Offerings ostensibly embodies these characteristics and the environ of Bali provides the natural setting as Theo Meier himself describes "The Tropics - what an expression that is! Everything is contained in it - as if in entity - the people, the scenery, the culture. In the Tropics, everything is simpler, bigger, and more evident. The contrasts are, in many respects, more delicate...In the Tropics, one thing flows into another. The outlines dissolve." Bali was indeed a source of inspiration for Theo Meier for more than a decade until his own departure from the island in 1955 and he eventually settled in Chiang Mai, Thailand from 1957 onwards until his own passing in 1982. Compared to his Balinese period, his works from his stay in Thailand are considerably more sombre in tone, less vibrant in colours and distinctly constrained to the depiction of portraitures and less communal activity such as the performance of rites and ceremony. In this regard, the Balinese work of Theo Meier carries on the legacy of Paul Gauguin with his intent "I concerned myself very closely in Bali and, indeed, elsewhere with ethnological details and relationships. For instance, if I had not studied thoroughly the music of the slunding orchestra, I would probably not have managed to portray a rejang dance so realistically." It is with the knowledge of such proclamation from the artist that one can evaluate the work of Theo Meier in its rightful context, more than a subject of exotica, Bali is portrayed as a 'living museum' where gods, spirits, nature and people congregate as a community.