The Belgian painter-traveller Adrien-Jean Le Mayeur de Merpres is one of the most celebrated 20th century artists who lived and painted in Bali, the mystical island in the Indonesian archipelago that is dominantly Hindu in a larger Islamic region. The outstanding natural beauty and cultural richness of the island has attracted artists throughout the 20th century to paint its landscapes and its peoples, and many artists have associated some of the most productive and enriching periods of their lives to the time they spent in Bali. Above all, Le Mayeur proved to be one of the island’s most famous foreign artists, having built his life and artistic career around the articulation of beauty in a tropical paradise.
The pictorial themes Le Mayeur worked on in Bali were mostly found in and around his the villa he built for himself and his wife, Ni Pollok at the beachfront of Sanur: 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, the last of them is one of the most iconic and enduring in his oeuvre.
This present lot is a wonderful example of one of the many iconic works Le Mayeur painted in Bali, most of which were depictions of the artist's immediate surroundings. These included his residence on Sanur beach, the interior of his house, the outdoor garden, and the lotus pond. Carefully built and designed for the purposes of surrounding himself in beauty to continually inspire his work, Le Mayeur stated in a letter: "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." (Jop Ubbens and Cathinka Huizing, 1880-1958 Adrien-Jean Le Mayeur de Merpres: Painter-Traveller, Pictures Publishers, The Netherlands, 1995, p. 120). The lush, tropical backdrop of his home served as the stage for Le Mayeur's dynamic and evocative portrayals of Ni Pollok – his exclusive model, muse, and wife in his beloved Bali home.
Le Mayeur was fascinated by the rich ritual culture of Bali, one he continuously captured in his paintings by depicting the graceful movements of the Legong dancers. When he engaged Ni Pollok to be his regular model for one rupiah a day, neither of them realised then that they had begun an everlasting and special relationship, first between artist and model, and eventually as partners in life. Having made countless studies of the Balinese beauty, the painter's familiarity with her poise and form enabled him to build elegant compositions of multiple maidens in acts of worship or dance in a seemingly effortless style.
In Women with Offerings (Lot 2511), the branches of the trees overhead, as well as the surrounding stone figures lead the viewer's eye from the foreground, where three women sit with their offerings, up to the standing maiden who mirrors the strength and verticality of the altar behind her. The effect of the composition is rhythmic, full of movement, and lyrical. One can almost hear the sound of the fabric worn by the dancers brushing the ground, smell the incense and the scent of trampled frangipani blossoms underfoot.
Le Mayeur's careful landscaping of his garden offered multiple opportunities to depict the play between light and shadow in his work. In the painting, we see dappled sunlight shining through gaps in the overhead foliage, producing high contrast and the illusion of depth, a wonderfully apt setting for an impressionist palette. Impressionists see nature in terms of colour and light, and abandoned the traditional methods of painting using tone and form. Just as Claude Monet (1840- 1926) declared, "When you go out to paint, try to forget what objects you have in front of you, a tree, a field. Just think, here is a little square of blue, there is an oblong of pink, here's a streak of yellow, and paint it just as it looks to you, the exact colour and shape, until it gives your own naive impression of the scene." (Discovering The Great Paintings: Monet, Fabbri Publishing UK Ltd., edit, The Artisan Press Ltd, United Kingdom, p. 6).
As seen in this lot, Le Mayeur used contrasting colours and spots of paint to form a visual representation of what he saw. At different times of the day, the quality and distribution of the light in Le Mayeur's garden must have afforded the artist an endless source of inspiration to best express his mood.
Le Mayeur's use of multiple strokes of thick paint to produce lively, colourful impasto in this painting communicates the spontaneity of each moment that the artist sought to depict. Each short brushstroke becomes a leaf, a flower petal, or a spot of sunlight gracing the naked skin of a dancer's back. It is through the artist's multiple iterations of a scene he had come to know as well that he was able to so succinctly and elegantly produce the shapes and forms of the dancers, the fabric they wore and the surrounding flora alike with his deft brushstrokes and choice of colour. The contrast between the stone gods and the toned bodies of the dancers is achieved to masterly effect, with the painting juxtaposing the solid forms of the stone against the suggestion of toned muscle holding up the graceful human forms.
Even though the subject matter of his art would remain consistent throughout his career, Le Mayeur's ability to create so many different iterations of the same subject testifies to his ingenuity, and his unending quest to capture the intoxicating beauty of the island that he loved so much.