Women in a Balinese Interior with Women by the Window

Women in a Balinese Interior with Women by the Window
signed 'J. Le Mayeur' (lower right)
oil on canvas, in the original hand-carved Balinese frame
73 x 89 cm. (28 3/4 x 35 in.)
Anon. sale; Christie's Hong Kong, 27 May 2007, Lot 39
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner

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Eric Chang
Eric Chang

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Lot Essay

Departing Europe in 1932, the French-speaking, Belgian-born Adrien-Jean Le Mayeur de Merprès made a promise to himself to pursue whole heartedly the career of an artist. He had Bali in mind with this bold declaration. That year, as he was 52, he made his second trip to Bali, arriving in the north of Bali at Singaraja. Since the 1920s, Bali had gained a reputation, no least thanks to Mexican artist-illustrator and writer Miguel Covarrubias' book, Island of Bali, as a destination for avant-garde artists including the German Walter Spies and the Dutch Rudolf Bonnet. The island's beautiful landscapes and rich cultural life which in turn feeds a highly ornamental visual culture made it a paradise for European expatriates, and least of all, artists like Le Mayeur.
After his arrival in Bali, Le Mayeur travelled south, finding himself fascinated by the vibrancy of traditional Balinese culture. Le Mayeur was also struck by the colour and beauty of the achingly beautiful environment around him which was unspoiled. Soon after he arrived in Bali, he met a 15 year old Legong dancer, Ni Nyoman Pollok, who would go on and become his muse and model.
An exhibition of paintings featuring Ni Pollok held in 1933 at the YMCA in Singapore was a commercial success: all the paintings were sold. After the exhibition Le Mayeur bought land facing Sanur beach where he built a home and studio. Le Mayeur and Ni Pollok married in 1935 in a Balinese ceremony. Since Legong dancers are considered too old to dance after the tender age of 16, Ni Pollok had a reason to quit dance and serve her new husband as a painting model.
After their wedding, Le Mayeur and Pollok built a cottage, its interior depicted here in Women in a Balinese Interior with Women by the Window (Lot 19), on the beach in Sanur which was described by the artist, "I've had a cottage built on the seashore, far away from other people, especially Europeans. As it is in the middle of a paddy it can only be approached by way of the beach our little house makes up a worthy frame around her (Pollok's) beauty." Although the seclusion of the house was deliberately planned by the artist, he nevertheless remained very hospitable to his visitors and as Le Mayeur's fame soared, many celebrities visited the little cottage by the beach of Sanur.
Amongst them was the novelist Neville Shute who related the pleasant experience: "I think that was the most wonderful house I have ever been in, the walls covered with paintings of the Balinese and their way of life, and full of Balinese young men and women so that it was difficult to say in memory which of the scenes remembered from the house were real ones and which were painted."
Depicted in the present lot, Women in a Balinese Interior with Women by the Window, is the interior of the beautiful cottage. To those familiar with the painting, the interior of the cottage is immediately recognisably Le Mayeur's. The exuberant foliage of the tropical garden that is surrounding the house is hinted at with the revealing window that permits the entry of the sunlight. The ladies at the window, one carrying an orange parasol, look inside, bridging the transition between the Arcadian outdoor and the beautiful interior. The decorations of the interior, particularly the paintings on the wall, the flowers in the vase and the Balinese furniture are the artist's daily surrounding as well as constant stimulant for the artist. Over the window and hanging on the wall are Le Mayeur's paintings, taking pride of place within the cottage. The portrayal of an interior set against a verdant sun-bathed garden outdoor offered the best setting for an impressionist palette as the contrast of light and shadow through the day allowed Le Mayeur to study and depict varying light conditions.
The American golfer and multi-millionaire Joe Kirkwood who visited Le Mayeur in 1937 expressed his admiration for his host's home:
"My host's cottage was unique unto itself with his canvasses as well as antique wood carvings on every wall. Attached to the house was a patio where the natives daily left flowers. In the midst of all was his studio, where three flawless native women lived and posed as models of voluptuous perfection in the evening the atmosphere became even more dreamlike with the changing patterns of light and shade playing on the colours of the forest and sea."
Within this wondrous setting, Le Mayeur went about the uninterrupted pursuit of beauty and painting. He wanted to surround himself "with nothing but beauty" and not only transformed his garden into a tropical paradise full of exuberant trees and flowers, terraces, pergolas, statues and lotus ponds, but also preserved the interior of his cottage as an arena to stage dramatic compositions for his interior paintings. All this was done with the idea to frame Ni Pollok's beauty within the larger context of his cottage and garden. For more than twenty-five years, she modeled in various poses for the numerous paintings he composed. In the end, his paintings constitute memories of an Arcadian paradise that is the unique meeting of the desires of a 20th century painter-traveler and the culturally fertile environs of Bali.

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