(Belgian, 1880-1958)
Balinese Garden with Ladies
signed 'J Le Mayeur' (lower left)
oil on canvas
100 x 120 cm. (39 3?8 x 47 1?4 in.)
Private Collection, The Netherlands

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Lot Essay

Le Mayeur: Life and Art

The Belgian Adrien Jean Le Mayeur de Merprès is the proverbial painter-traveller of the early 20th Century who spent much of his artistic career seeking out beauty from the far corners of the world. Much influenced both by style and subject-matter, he sought to follow the legacy of French impressionist, Eugéne Henri Paul Gauguin (1848-1903), and travelled to Tahiti and French Polynesia. However, Le Mayeur was disappointed in what he saw, for by then Tahiti was no longer the paradise that Gauguin had depicted during his years there (Fig. 1). Therefore, in 1932, his quest took him to the exotic Indonesian island of Bali, which served as his inspiration for the next twenty-six years.

One of his major inspirations and influences during this period was a graceful Legong dancer, Ni Wayan Pollok Tjoeglik (1917-1985), who became his wife and painting model for over two decades. Their partnership was one forged under their mutual understanding of each other's pursuit of aesthetic perfection. During their marriage, Ni Pollok had desired to start a family, but Le Mayeur feared that doing so might render her unable to continue to sitting for him as she had - in the way Le Mayeur devoted his life to his art, the same was expected of Ni Pollok.

Ni Pollok occupies a special place in his painting and his life as wife, sitter and leitmotif. The relationship between painter and model has never been closer and more faithful than it was with Le Mayeur and Ni Pollok. In his oeuvre, Le Mayeur rendered countless impressions of Ni Pollok (Fig. 2 & 3). Over many years, most of the poses depicted became classic archetypal poses - for instance the standing woman with upstretched arms or a woman with a shawl draped over one arm. In Balinese Garden with Ladies (Lot 19), featured here, these poses are expectedly present. Le Mayeur freely interpreted the human anatomy; oftentimes, he exaggerates Ni Pollok's limbs and the possible natural poses of the human figure. Yet, Le Mayeur always rendered his portrayal of Ni Pollok with a superlative elegance and grace.

The tropical impressionist in Bali

Firmly settled in Bali, Le Mayeur set about to cultivate a lush garden around his house near the beach in the little village of Sanur. His garden was a paradise on earth, and served as the backdrop to his paintings. In the garden, he planted different flowering plants - bougainvillea, frangipani and hibiscus - which bloomed in abundance and proliferated in a profusion of colours. Le Mayeur 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. Le Mayeur created an ethereal world of beauty to facilitate his painting; everything in his house and the surrounding garden was created to be painted.

Through his impressionist scenes of the tropical Balinese garden-scapes, Le Mayeur constantly endeavoured to capture'beauty, sunlight and silence'. Balinese Garden with Ladies is a manifestation of his artistic pursuits, perfectly encapsulating his approach towards the use of light and dark to create tension in his work. A profusion of flowers in resplendent blue, violet, red and yellow jewel-tones and depicts an overhang of foliage made up of tropical flowers such as hibiscuses, frangipani and morning glories in the upper half of the composition. An unusual colour palette for the artist, these colours contrasts with the more neutral pinks, browns and beiges to achieve depth within the painting. The scene that unfolds is partially covered by a foreground of Black Taro leaves, which grow adjacent to a lush lotus pond, allowing the viewer to feel as if he is witnessing a quiet moment of intimacy between the women. Le Mayeur's composition and treatment of the women in Balinese Garden With Ladies bring to mind the work of Gauguin: the manipulation of figure and form creates a sense of rhythm within an exotic genre scene. However, where Gaugin's women are poignant and indeterminate, Le Mayeur's Balinese ladies brim with a dynamic energy, leaving one feeling enlivened by his work.

As an impressionist, Le Mayeur had a heightened sensitivity to his environs and he pursued the study of light and shadow in a highly conscientious manner. The approach, which he adopts toward light over foliage, naked skin or water, is immediately striking. Patches of yellow and gold which dot the arms and backs of these Balinese ladies, as well as the shrubs that surround this quiet garden-scape, depict the soft glow of light in the darker areas of the painting. Dusty pink dots and dashes on the ground, exercised by the artist's brushstrokes is a show of how Le Mayeur deftly and effectively captures the luminosity of light filtering through the floral overhang. Before World War II, Le Mayeur painted in a highly impressionist style: with thick short strokes, he created a colourful idyll. With just a few carefully chosen colours and colours set on various planes in each picture, Le Mayeur manages to create a highly personal impression of a subject. His technique, though simple, is highly effective - flowers are just dabs of colours and leaves just strokes of paint. In the complementary use of light and dark colours, Le Mayeur 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 and set out to paint.

Reviewing one of his exhibitions in the early 1930s, The Singapore Free Press wrote, "The paintings of M. Mayeur form one of the best art exhibitions yet arranged in Singapore. Most of them have Bali girls as their subject, and the artist has succeeded in capturing the sunny spirit both of subject and scene. His technique is simple but effective. He indicates every essential without going into detail. His colouring too is brilliantly effective, and he has captured the brightness and colourfulness of the tropical scene with the minimum of effort."

His compositions in the post-war period tend to intensify in complexity. He began painting increasingly detailed works with more concisely applied strokes, as seen in the mass of plants and flowers which constitutes most of the scene in Balinese Garden with Ladies. Additionally, it is in this post-war period that Le Mayeur introduces a heavier use of greens in his palette. Figures became less of a focus - instead, his goal veered towards encapsulating an atmosphere of exoticness he experienced while living in Bali. However, Le Mayeur's ability to control the intense and the subtle within his colour palette remains his artistic signature as a tropical impressionist.

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