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Women by the lotus pond

Women by the lotus pond
signed 'J Le Mayeur' (lower left)
oil on canvas
39 x 48 in. (100 x 120 cm)
Anonymous sale, Christie's, Singapore, 4 October 1998, lot 236.
Acquired from the above sale by the present owner.

Lot Essay

"Cette fois j'allait vivre exclusivement pour mon art et que rien ne pourrait m'en distraire" (This time I shall live exclusively for my art and nothing shall distract me). (Jop Ubbens and Cathinka Huizing, Adrien-Jean Le Mayeur de Merprès: Painter-Traveller,Pictures Publishers, The Netherlands, 1995, p. 101).

The French-speaking, Belgian-born artist made this promise before his departure from Europe in 1932 where he was born and raised, educated and worked as an artist for most of his life. By the age of 52 when he made his second visit to Bali, Le Mayeur was very much a seasoned traveller who had left his foot-prints in the lands of North Africa, India and most European countries.

True to the spirit of an impressionist and a painter-traveller, the routine of the artist's life had been punctuated with frequent sojourns in foreign lands. These endeavours elucidate the artist's constant and dedicated pursuit of sunlight and inspiration. Bali was to become a rich stimulant for Le Mayeur, and he devoted himself to the task of depicting his immediate surrounding: the Balinese people, the luxuriant flora, the beach and the sea, all bathed in exuberant sunlight.

What fascinated the artist most was the exotic culture which Le Mayeur felt was superbly manifested in the graceful movements of the Legong dancers, a form of a traditonal Balinese dance. When he engaged Ni Pollok to be his regular model for one rupiah a day, neither of them realised then that they had henceforth begun an everlasting and special relationship, first between artist and favourite model, and eventually as partners in life. It was also a beginning whereupon the artist embarked on the creation of a series of oeuvres with Balinese subjects.
This eloquently voluptuous painting is evidently painted in the artist's Balinese period (1932-1958). Generally defined by the pre-war and post-war periods, Le Mayeur's time in Bali coincided with the Japanese occupation of the island 1942-1945 which greatly interrupted the artist's painting activity as painting materials became very difficult to come by in those years.

The present work dates from the matured pre-war Balinese period when the artist has gone through a period of initiation: a time of surprises, searching and discovering the tropical environ till he finally settled on his immediate environ as his constant subject and Pollok, his wife as his eternal muse. Le Mayeur's house at the beach of Sanur and the garden he conscientiously built with it - is very much his home and his studio.

The artist enthusiastically described it "I planted a mass of bougainvillaea, 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." (Ibid., p. 120).

Much of what we known today is from the artist's own writings. Le Mayeur writes avidly to his family and friends in Europe as well as the collectors of his works. Through his own words, one comes to learn of his intention as an artist. Just as he has proclaimed when he first arrived on the island that "nothing will distract me from my art", a promise that he kept vigilantly and indeed built a home to suit that purpose.

The artist explains "I've evidently made all things serviceable to my art. All my actions have but one purpose: facilitating my work. And my urge to set to work and render expression to all those things enchanting me never left me for even a single instant during those years." (Ibid., p. 120).

Women by the lotus pond depicted 4 bare-breasted female figures, comprising a virtual catalogue of poses from which Le Mayeur frequently worked and reworked. His familiarity with his subjects imbued the work with an overwhelming sense of fluidity and spontaneity that is only possible when the artist knows his subjects like the palm of his hand and hence directing his attention to the capturing of the evanescent light of the tropics. The pond, the foliage and the female figures though repeatedly depicted would never fail to be the perfect play area for the dancing tropical light and thus creating a fleeting moment of presentation that colours, light and shadow are the only protagonists and an eternal inspiration to an impressionist palette.

"Vous comprendrez partout ceci ce que je peint. Tout est à peindre dans le petit domaine que je me suis cree." (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). (Ibid., p. 120). The 'little paradise' which the artist referred to still stands today by the beach of Sanur in Bali and it remains as picturesque a scene as it had been to the artist.

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