(Belgian, 1880-1958)
Three Dancers in the Garden
signed 'J. Le Mayeur' (lower right)
oil on canvas, in the original hand carved Balinese frame
100 x 120.5 cm. (39 1/4 x 47 5/8 in.)
Acquired directly from the artist, and thence by descent to the present owner

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Lot Essay

The painting Three Dancers in the Garden is a very fine example of the style of the Belgian painter Adrien-Jean Le Mayeur de Merpres (1880-1958), executed in the years after World War Two, during the last decade of his life.

Adrien-Jean Le Mayeur was born into an aristocratic family in Brussels. When he was very young, he decided to follow in his father's footsteps to become a painter. In his youth, he was passionate about painting, and gifted at it. Nonetheless, circumstances forced him to enrol at the university to train as an engineer. By 1902, however, Le Mayeur regarded himself as an artist, painting canvases of the familiar scenes around him. After the first World War, he started travelling extensively; to the south of France, to Marseilles and Saint Tropez, to Italy; finding himself in Venice and later on, he continued travelling to the countries in the north of Africa. The artist was wealthy enough not to have to paint for money. He was free to choose and develop his themes as he liked. His travels took him further and further: India, Cambodia, Madagascar, Djibouti and Tahiti. It was in Tahiti that someone advised him to visit Bali, where "he could find beauty, sunlight and silence, the three things in life that Le Mayeur loved most."

The three graceful dancers in the painting are depicted in the garden in front of the house Le Mayeur and his wife Ni Pollok built on the beach of Sanur, Bali. The distinctive white house, with its thatched roof and blue and white window shutters, takes up almost the whole pictorial background. With this, the artist achieves an intimate atmosphere. This is different from the other paintings by the artist from this period, which often show a kind of vista - a central scene boxed in by branches, foliage and flowers but with a strip of sea or open space in the background, giving the canvases an airier, more spacious feeling.

The house at Sanur has been depicted several times in the oeuvre of Le Mayeur. The painter himself writes about his house and garden in many letters. In one, he writes, "I've evidently made all things serviceable to my art. All my actions have but one purpose: facilitating my work." In another, he again talks about the inspiration his residence gives to his works, "you will understand my paintings wherever you may see them, for everything in this little paradise which I created for myself was made to be painted" . In yet another, Le Mayeur shares the importance of his garden to him, "I organized my home exactly as I liked it. I intended to surround myself with nothing but beauty. [K] I planted a mass of bougainvillea, frangipani, hibiscus and all around the cottage I put groups of intertwining plants. I built little temples, completely made of white coral, dug little ponds in which the reflections of all the Gods of Hindu mythology can be seen among the sacred lotus flowers. The two temples are surrounded by approximately two hundred of these little sculptures, which have integrated with the flowers whose silhouettes are drawn on the purple and pink tropic skies."

In the centre of the painting, behind the dancing girls but in front of the house stands one of the decorative statues he described in his letter. The lush garden is shown in his signature style: abundant flowers and foliage on branches in shades of orange, pink and green. The palette Le Mayeur used evolved during his career. The early Bali oil paintings were dominated by different shades of pink, yellow, beige and even white. At times, the works were bluish. In all, his earlier works were in soft, pale tones with an orange tint. Later in his life, Le Mayeur used more green in his paintings. The colours also became sharper and more contrasting, resulting in a clearer, less dreamy atmosphere. Although the present lot belongs to the fifties, in the later period of his career, it still bears a certain lightness. The light rendered on the small details is of a great subtlety. For instance, patches of light fall on the ground where the dancers sway, on the branches, on the statue and on the skin of the women. The three dancers are in fact all painted in the likeness of Ni Pollok, whose visage is recognisable particularly in the dancer in the middle of the composition. After settling in Kelandis in 1932, Le Mayeur soon hired two beautiful legong dancers, Ni Pollok and Ni Reneng, who posed for him frequently. He paid them one rupiah a day. Ni Pollok became his muse and after his return from an exhibition in Singapore in 1935, the artist married his favourite model in accordance with Balinese customs (adat ). The young graceful dancer Ni Wayan Pollok Tjoeglik (1917-1985) was thirty seven years his junior. She remained Le Mayeur's only model for twenty five years. 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." When she was his model, she used to forget that Le Mayeur was her husband; instead, she tended to think of him as her employer. Ni Pollok was quite intelligent, and was very willing to adapt to western habits. She learned to speak French and English, and turned out to be a very elegant hostess to the many visitors who wanted to meet the exotic couple.

After World War Two, Bali turned into a tourist haven. Wealthy tourists from America, Singapore and Europe started spending their holidays on the idyllic island. The Bali Hotel at Denpasar, which was built by the Koninklijke Paketvaart-Maatschappij, a major Dutch shipping company operating in Indonesia at the time, recommended in a brochure a visit to Mr. Le Mayeur. The guests were always warmly received by the painter and his wife, and would often be invited to lunch. Sometimes, Ni Pollok even danced for the visitors or modelled her stunning silk sarongs. Many guests would leave feeling privileged that they had been allowed to buy one or two of Le Mayeur's paintings. As this present lot was previously owned by a European collector, it could very well be that it came into his possession through such an encounter.

Throughout this career, Le Mayeur was faithful to these themes: the reflections of his immediate surroundings, as well as daily Balinese life. Even in his twilight years in the fifties, the painter was still under the spell of the women, the light and the colours of Bali. Nevertheless, his style developed as the years came and went. Whereas his brushstrokes in the earlier years were more fluid and evocative, those in the later years were more precise, and seemingly conscientiously so. Instead of stripes and dots of colours suggesting branches, leaves and flowers, in his later years, these details were more clearly identifiable as such. Another typical feature in his later works is the fact that the figures in the scenes became smaller in proportion to the surrounding space, and moved away from being the centre of attention. Le Mayeur's signature also went through an evolution with time: at first, he inscribed the 'Le' and 'Mayeur' as one word; later, he separated them and finally added a dot behind the 'J' of his first name. Arising from the above, I am convinced the painting Three Dancers in the Garden is a late work by the last Southeast Asian impressionist, as he declared himself.

Arising from the above, I am convinced the painting Three Dancers in the Garden is a late work by the last Southeast Asian impressionist, as he declared himself.

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

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