Three Women in the Interior captures the rich beauty enjoyed by Belgian painter Adrien-Jean Le Mayeur De Merprès while he lived and worked in his Bali home. While the two women at the table are the most obvious figures in the composition, the third lounging lady seems to blend into the room, awash in golden light. She completes the trio, frequent compositional arrangement of the painter, whose other paintings often depict a group of women dancing, or carrying offerings.
Le Mayeur borrowed the form of Ni Pollock, his wife and exclusive model, in his well-known, lively depictions of her dancing in their garden and around the lotus pond. The female figures within his compositions carry the same grace and poise, and it becomes easy to see Ni Pollock in all of them. In this painting, we see her situated within their home. While the picture depicts a captured moment, Le Mayeur’s multiplication of his wife’s image also produces a sense of an amalgamation and layering of moments spent in their gorgeous home within a single painting. Ni Pollock can be seen lounging on a daybed, working her hands at decorating at the table, and resting. The result is an intimate image that attests to the painter’s love of his surroundings, and his attempt to capture every beautiful moment he encounters.
Not far from where the women work, several frangipani blossoms lay scattered on the ground, attesting to the spontaneity of the moment, and the carefree nature of activity. These scattered blossoms are contrasted with the rest of the flowers in the room, which are displayed in an orderly manner in various vases: on the mantle, and on the table in the foreground of the painting. In this way, Le Mayeur draws a subtle contrast between two worlds – the unhindered freedom of the natural exterior, and the attempts to capture and replicate this in the interior. The high ceiling creates a sense of airy spaciousness within the home, and the lines between the inside and the outdoors are blurred by depicting the blossoms in sprays of riotous colour.
The use of perspective in Le Mayeur’s composition of the painting, as well as his inclusion of a checkered floor brings to mind the genre paintings of the Dutch masters. Where genre paintings contained everyday household activities, often of women reading a letter, or playing an instrument, Le Mayeur contextualises the genre to the culturally and visually rich surroundings of his Bali home. The element of still life painting is also hinted at in his inclusion of the books laid out on the table with the vase of flowers in the foreground. Through the inclusion of the table, Le Mayeur subtly inserts himself into the painting through his reading preferences as a traveler and lover of knowledge. For example, we see Mao Tse-Tung, the founding father of the People’s Republic of China present on a book cover.
In the interior, the women take on a more domestic energy, as compared to their external activities of dancing and carrying offerings to the gods in Le Mayeur’s garden paintings. However, the painter’s depiction of the rich culture of Bali is ever present here, with much attention paid to the richly carved details on the walls, furniture and pillars. In the garden, culture is expressed through the dancers, but inside, it is the built environment that rises to the occasion: the mask hung on the wall echoes the energy of the Legong dancers, as do the portraits of the dancers hung on the wall behind the women. These artifacts are a nod to the ritual and culture of Bali, but while indoors, serve ornamental purposes.
A rare and meditative reprieve into the intimate private space of Le Mayeur’s dwelling, Three Women in the Interior is a quiet celebration of the beauty found in simple acts of domesticity and rest.