RESEARCH & ESSAY.
Acclaimed as the most well-known impressionism painter, Adrien Jean Le Mayeur de Merprès (9 February 1880 – 31 May 1958) was celebrated as a Belgian-born artist who was proud of his adventure in idyllic places in the world, and Bali island was a throne place he decided for his dwelling. Le Mayeur arrived in Banjar Kelandis village – Bali in 1933, and after renting a house at Banjar Kelandis, he later set up a house with its lush garden as his studio in Sanur village, then finally settled there for his scintillating career as a painter. He was greeted with rapturous beauty of island and geniality of its habitants. He was lured on a young gorgeous girl, a 15-year-old graceful Legong dancer Ni Wayan Polok Tjoglik (1917-1985) or her nickname “Ni Pollok”, for his alluring model and muse in deep love and affection. After three years of their first meeting and working together, Le Mayeur and Pollok got married in 1935. Ni Pollok became the source of inspiration from Le Mayeur’s exotic painting. As his aspiration for his paintings, unsurprisingly, Le Mayeur captured Ni Pollok and maidens depicted as scene of bare-breasted Balinese women in an exotic garden on the present work.
Entitled to “Picking Flowers in The Lush Garden”, the artist depicted four young bare-breasted women gathering frangipani petals among blossom trees. The artist executed this work in moderate impressionist style, while the elaborately motifs was painted in dense and short brushstroke with brilliantly earthy palette predominantly in orange and red, beige, green, beige and white to emphasize the lighting effects and figure posing for daily life in the richly lush garden of his villa in Sanur – Bali. Inspired from the late impressionists’ style and pallet, the present painting is dreamy but unimaginative romance of exotic womanhood, a sort of languorous tropical Renoir. “Although his work depicts daily life in Bali, he is still an exponent of late European impressionism, which favors a gentle, earthy palette of yellow, brown, beige and soft blue which is in contrast to the red, pink, orange and purple accents”.1)
His oeuvre of the present painting is painted in rapid and spontaneously brushstroke with ecstatic vibrancy displaying a bright visual composed in balance to the orange and red subject with grayish white in the background. The subject was composed in the lush garden set in front of his house’s outdoor that was aesthetically built as a tropical paradise on earth with abundance of flowering plants, including its exuberant frangipani, hibiscus and bougainvillea with foliage surrounding three maidens. Three maidens and lush garden environment occupy the central part of the painting, where one standing figure is depicted in picking up flowers while two is posed in kneeling to pick up and gather the falling and scattered flowers with their hands, and all are surrounded by four large status of Hindu goddesses. It is clearly seen that his favorite model and lovely wife, Ni Pollok, is depicted in watching the maidens from the side of the manor’s balcony in the frontage of window. As if Renoir who loved to show the effect of sunlight on flowers and figures, Le Mayeur also achieved it on the present painting. We can see the sunlight shines from over foliage at the right corner reflecting through the natural lush tree and foliage. The artist applied for the effect of dexterous sunlight at the noon with a warm seductive glow illuminating the maidens’ naked skins of back, arms, calf of feet and faces sections, and the wall of his residence. The artist arranged to create light by painting flowers with just dots and leaves with just strokes of paint, while on the ground with short orange stripes. As if the artist attempted to capture the fleeting effects of afternoon sunlight to the angels in tropical paradise.
The subject on the present piece also is tied with religious and culture of Bali Hinduism. In Bali where Hinduism has made a bold statement, and religious ritual is an important part of the daily routines of its inhabitants. Flower is one of the main ingredients in preparation of offerings for the Hindu goddess. The flowers were usually prepared in the morning to daylight when the warm sunshine illuminated the beautiful Sanur island, and sunshine reflected through floral splendor to the lush gardens and maidens. Ni Pollok and the maidens began collecting the petals for the offerings to goddess. Entitled to “Picking flowers for the Temple” on the present painting, the painting was an embodiment of religious obedience of Ni Pollok and maidens captured by Le Mayeur Ni Polok was Hinduism Bali devout while Le Mayeur was a Christian Catholic. Le Mayeur appreciated and praised Balinese religious life, and he was highly tolerant of his wife’s religious life. When an Indonesian journalist interviewed her in 1976 on her memory of her husband’s life, Ni Pollok asserted, “Sometimes, he took a part of Hindu ceremony in the temple, but he just looked around. He often enjoyed looking at Hindu offerings arranged in soaring with colorful ornaments. He was also amused with Balinese girls wearing traditional clothes and walking in throngs with their heads carrying the offerings for the gods residing in heaven.”2)
Le Mayeur’s residence with its garden composition was the artistic source and inspiration for his works. His admiration on his house and its garden was expressed by himself, “Now that my exhibition turned out to be bigger success that I had ever dared hope. I organized my house exactly as I liked it. I intended to surround myself with nothing but beauty. I employed five house servants for Polok.”3) The present piece was created in early Post War II, 1948s, where Lee Mayeur employed a heavier and smaller brushwork and painted in slightly greater detail as a moderate impressionism style compared to his Pre-War II works painted in highly impressionism style with a loose manner depicting two or three figures. Indeed, this glaringly fantastic and energetic painting exudes the natural beauty in a very bold manner. Executed with spontaneous brushwork by confidence, the painting is an apocalypse from the natural beauty that can only be found in unadulterated Bali at that time. Thick brushes of pigments and layers stacking each other create a harmony of colors and vibrancy. Figures of women drawn with tenacity and speed imbues the subject with sense of weight and strength of femininity. Although the subject is portrayed with a fulfilling sense of realism, there can be seen the flowers just dots and leaves just strokes of paint representing the moderate impressionism style from within. The uneven thickness of lines, the blending mixtures of colors, and the freedom of color distribution that was inscribed with artist’s signature at the lower left truly accomplishes a painting worthy of appreciations.
Like other artists, the repetition of the same subjects, decorative elements and poses of figures on his iconic house, garden and the beach on the present painting returns again in his works many times. For example. the similar subject and decorative elements and pose to the present painting entitled to “Three Women in the Garden and with One Seated at the Balcony” (size: 100 x 120 cm), was sold at Christie’s Singapore, 2nd April 2000, lot. 25 for S$427,750. or equivalent to US$249,677 (see fig. 1). Another in similar decorative elements to the present painting but in different subject and composition entitled to “Dancers in the Garden (1916)” (size: 100 x 120 cm) was sold at Christie’s Hong Kong, 28th May 2016, lot. 39, estimated US$515,200 – US$772,800 and sold for HK$4,600,000l or equivalent to US$592,480 (see fig. 2).
Ubbens and C. Huizing, Adrien-Jean Le Mayeur de Merprès: Painter-Traveller, Picture Publisher, Amsterdam, 1995, p. 127.
Yati Maryati Wiharja, Ni Polok, Model dari Kelandis, PT. Gramedia, Jakarta, 1976, p. 50 – 51.
Ubbens and C. Huizing, 1995, p. 119.