(Belgian, 1880-1958)
Around the Lotus Pond
signed 'J. Le Mayeur' (lower right)
oil on canvas, in the original hand carved Balinese frame
101 x 120.5 cm. (39 3/4 x 47 1/8 in.)
Painted in the 1950s
Acquired directly from the artist at his Bali Estate
Private Collection, California, USA

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Felix Yip
Felix Yip

Lot Essay

As an artist, Belgian painter Adrien Jean Le Mayeur de Merprès (1880-1958) sought only to paint the beautiful things which surrounded him and which inspired his aesthetic vision. "What he sought was light, colour and beauty, a quest which took him to faraway places all over the world. Finally, at the age of 52 he discovered his ideal location, the Indonesian island of Bali".

What inspired him above of all was his muse, later his wife Ni Pollok, a beautiful Legong dancer who modelled for him for more than 25 years, everyday. The young graceful dancer Ni Wayan Polok Tjoeglik (1917-1985) was 37 years his younger. In her memoirs she writes about the long hours she had to spend posing in the burning sun, without being allowed to move, because "Tuan Le Mayeur had willed it so".

And next to her it was his lush garden, his paradise he created around his house near the beach of the little village of Sanur on Bali, that inspired him. His garden was a paradise on earth created to inspire. In the garden, he planted different flowering plants - bougainvillea, frangipani and hibiscus - which bloomed in abundance and proliferated in a profusion of colours. He built little temples of white coral and dug little ponds in which the reflections of the statues of Hindu gods and goddesses can be seen among the sacred lotus flowers. He created an ethereal world of beauty to facilitate his painting; everything in his house and the surrounding garden was created to be painted.

Unsurprisingly, the pictorial themes Le Mayeur worked on were mostly found in and around his house: women at leisure on a daybed in the interior of the house; women weavers at the loom; women on the veranda or women dancing on a terrace; women in front of the house or in the garden picking flowers or making offerings. Amongst these themes, one of his favourite was dancers around the lotus pond.

The pond depicted in the present work is surrounded by six women picking flowers. Four of them clearly bear the physiognomy of Ni Pollok, especially the figure on the right kneeled with her hand reaching towards the water. In his oeuvre, Le Mayeur constantly rendered impressions of Ni Pollok in various attitudes. During his career the same poses return again and again in his work - for instance the standing woman with up stretched arms or a woman with a shawl draped over one arm.

Christie's have had the priviliege of selling several paintings depicting female figures centered around the lotus pond. An earlier painting with four women around the pond in front of the house (Christie's Hong Kong May 29 2005 lot 18), a later one with many more female figures around the pond (Chrsitie's Singapore October 3 1999 lot 842) and a smaller one with three women which can be dated at the end of Le Mayeurs life (Christie's Amsterdam March 14, 2005 lot 212A). Seen collectively, these works reveal a clear stylistic development in Le Mayeur's career, though the subject matter remained constant.

Before the onset of World War II, the artist used to paint and draw in a loose manner: the limbs of his figures are subject to an unrestrained interpretation of anatomy: large hands, elongated arms and bent bodies. The present lot, Around the Lotus Pond (Lot 2012), which in my opinion is executed after World War II, where only the feet and fingers are still painted in this expressionist way. Also, Le Mayeur's post-war paintings are characterized by the presence of more female figures but each one appearing smaller and painted in the middle plane rather than only one or two women prominently depicted in the foreground as he did in the years before the war.

Beauty, colour and light was what Le Mayeur strove to paint. Around the Lotus Pond is outstanding for its radiating warmth and attractiveness. Hues of red, purple, orange and pink dominate the canvas, contrasting with the darker square which is the pond and the water in the lower half of the picture. The artist was highly adept at creating tension by adding contrast in his picture through the use of juxtaposing colours and planes. Unlike many of his other works, Le Mayeur didn't compose a vista, an open space surrounded by shrubs and foliage with a view to the horizon in Around the Lotus Pond. Instead, to give the picture a greater sense of intimacy, he depicted lush bougainvillea above the pond. To suggest depth, he painted a horizon behind the shrubs with a few deft strokes of softer tones of pink and beige.

As a luminist, Le Mayeur's approach to light over foliage, naked skin or water is immediately striking. In the present painting, light is depicted by sturdy patches of yellow paint on the arms and the backs of the women and on the stems and branches of the shrubs. On the ground, the artist suggests light by painting large diagonal orange stripes. The depiction of light in the picture is handled with conscientiousness and is highly effective and of artistic merit.

Before World War II, Le Mayeur painted in a highly impressionist style: with thick short strokes, he created a colourful idyll. With just colour and light, the artist manages to create a highly personal impression of a subject, as if one is looking through his eyelashes. His technique, though simple, is highly effective - flowers are just dots and leaves just strokes of paint. In the complementary use of light and dark colours, he suggested sunspots and depth. Although seemingly simply executed with the minimum of effort, each work accomplishes in capturing the brightness and colour of the tropical paradise Le Mayeur had created by his brilliantly effective colouring. A critic in The Strait Times in Singapore wrote: "His treatment is of a rare quality. He has brought down the elimination of detail to a fine art an there is hardly any modelling, yet the effect is all that it should be. Bold strokes of the brush on hands and feet and arms he has shown are all that is necessary after appreciating the line of the body. He finds very beautiful colours in the shadows. Most Western artists find it difficult to escape from shadows more sober".

Later, in the postwar period, Le Mayeur's brushwork became smaller and he painted in greater detail. His application of paint became heavier, as is very clearly seen in the mass of flowers in this Around the Lotus Pond. Also, in the post-war era, he used more green on his palette. His compositions gained in complexity, and figures retreated in size, becoming less the focal of a picture in relation to the depiction of an overall scene. An intense and subtle use of colour in combination with sparkling light effects remains his main force.

Christie's is grateful to Dr Cathinka Huizing for the catalogue essay.

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