Painting art is a medium that enables people to express their emotions, ideas, and aesthetic experience. Through painting art, people have been able to convey his messages and imaginations, tell their stories, and assimilate everything that is truly meaningful to them. Painting art is not separated with the artists who create this art and deliver its meaning. Painting art itself has been created by the artists since thousands of years ago. The painting art movement undergoes its development over time.
Painting art movement in Indonesia comes through its development because of the development of social, politic and economic structures in the world, especially in the periods of colonial, World War I and II. Around the late 19th to early 20th century, for example, many artists of painting in Indonesia began stylizing their works relied on the art and culture of Europe countries, particularly Holland and modern Belgium. Through colonialism the Dutch introduced Western technique, patterns and colors composition of painting in Dutch East Indies country or Indonesia. The European artists living in Indonesia painted the themes exhibiting the appealing and calm mountainous landscapes, beautiful and romantic subjects, and peaceful atmospheres that were intended to attract foreigners and tourists. This era has been considered as the Mooi Indie painting style that developed in Indonesia during the Colonial Government of Dutch East Indies.
Form the early to mid-20th century, Bali island of Indonesia provided inspiration space to foreign artists from Holland, Belgium, Philippines, and other countries. This period, modern art flourished because a lot of movements of modern art to form, which some of these famous movement are realism, pop art, expressionism, and impressionism arts. One of the impressionistic paintings of Southeast Asia that emerged and became the most illustrious painting in the mid-20th century is artwork painted by the renowned Belgium artist ‘Adrien- Jean Le Mayeur de Merprẻs (1880-1958)’. The present work was acquired directly from the artist in 1948 by the owner’s grandmother, a Dutch Woman Nieuwdord Willy (1916 – 1979). She was one of daughters of Major Willy Boekenoongen (1882 – 1950), a navy military force of the Royal Netherlands East Indies Army (Koninklijk Nederlands Indisch Leger or KNIL) founded by the Netherlands empire in 14th September 1814 – 26 July 1950. KNIL was maintained by Netherlands in its colony of Netherlands East Indies in areas of the Dutch East Indies, now Indonesia. (see fig. 1: Major Willy Boekenoongen with his officials in his office. Circa 1932).
The acquisition of the present work took place almost simultaneously with the onset of Dutch aggression in Indonesia. Two major military aggression undertaken by the Netherlands or Dutch Military Aggression II against the Republic of Indonesia took place in December 1948 to 1949. It was an armed conflict and diplomatic between Indonesia and Dutch Empire. It was one of a large revolution of the twentieth century, and involved sporadic but bloody armed conflict, internal Indonesia political communal upheavals, and a major international diplomatic intervention. Some of her collections were then evacuated to another region, Pasuruan town, about 64 km from Surabaya. In 12th June 1952, she gave birth to a daughter named Marindha Roeslan who is then a grandmother of the present work owner. (see fig. 2: Passport Mrs. Nieuwdord Willy, dated 1955). However, whatever the provenance tells about the present work, but it is more legitimate to research it based on its physically characteristics, stylistic and aesthetics of work compared to those of the other artist’s works in the Museum of Lee Mayeur – Bali, and published in art market.
As a member of the Belgian royal family born in Brussels, Adrien- Jean Le Mayeur de Merprẻs (1880-1958) arrived in Bali in 1932 and resided in Kelandis village, Sanur, a tropical paradise near Denpasar after searching for several years for a quiet and peaceful place in other countries to enjoy his adventure in painting. The waves sigh of Sanur beach became a splendid lure for him, and then it became a hieratic witness narrating how Le Mayeur expressed his esoteric love to a graceful Balinese Legong dancer, a virgin from Kelandis village, Ni Wayan Pollok Tjoeglik (1917-1985). In 1935, Le Mayeur married Ni Wayan Pollok Tjoeglik, colloquially known as Ni Pollok, and since then this couple concurrently made an ultimate synergy to produce tremendous artworks. As an impressionist, Le Mayeur is recognized as the French painter Gauguin of Indonesia for the artist’s well depiction of Balinese women portrayal posing in beautiful panoramic sceneries in the garden near the beach. Like on the current piece, his works are also widely appreciated for employing a daring vision in representing the graceful Balinese maidens and their day to day basis routines, especially when it comes to Ni Pollok, the artist’s own wife and muse.
On the present piece, Le Mayeur astutely depicted scene of three bare-breasted Balinese women picking up flowers and weaving in the Garden. Two maidens are showed sitting in different pose at weaving while another picking flowers around natural landscape surrounded by three large statues of Hindu gods and goddesses in front of Balinese shrine background in the lush garden. The subject is painted in free-flowing and bold, strong and short brushstroke throughout the painting in predominantly vibrant style and earthly palette of red, green, yellow, orange and beige upon thick canvas. The present work consists of complex brush strokes that vary in the amount of paint used. The artist used colors in order to push emotion onto the audience through contrasting colors and it reflects the artist own mood and surroundings at that time.
In addition to play a technique to dexterously capture the rendition of light and color, the artist also brilliantly painted with palettes of greenish yellow to create the warm light and long widened shadows in the ground in relaxed daylight setting. The artist astutely set the sunlight shines from over foliage at the left corner reflecting through the natural lush tree and foliage rendering a warm seductive glow illuminating the maidens’ naked skins of arms, backs, calf of feet and faces sections, and the wall of shrine and its statues. The piece is clearly signed with its artist’s name “J. Le Mayeur” at a lower right section framed with an original hand carved Balinese solid teakwood frame from the artist. Through this artwork, the artist captures the visual richness of the island’s inhabitant and flora showing frangipani blossoms and foliage shading the maidens in weaving in the garden.
As an impressionist, the artist characterized this work by the rendition of its light and colors, leading to the epithet of luminist to describe this painting’s style. Inspired by Gauguin’s works in composition, this work was expected to be a mirror that heightens the value of Balinese candidness. The present work delivers a plausibly visual imagery of Balinese women that is strongly and perfectly composed. The artist went beyond visual imagery to deliver the peak of Balinese women beauty to his devotees on the current gorgeous work. He executed how the brushstrokes were placed without doubts, and spontaneously dense brushstrokes were displayed in lively dynamic characters to a two-dimensional medium. As his daring vision, so are his colors. The vibrant and dense colors are applied from center to edges as if colors are the guidelines for the lines of sketch, not the other way around. The usage of colors truly complemented the lush floral beauty, and the femininity of muscular womanhood on the subject. Richard Tregaskis, a writer and reporter from Elizabeth, New Jersey who visited and met Le Mayeur and Ni Pollok in the World War II recalls, “Pollok (her name is not as well as known her face and form) had a full, smooth shouldered figure and, like most of the Balinese women I saw, a magnificent erect posture. Her skin was lovely café-au-lait color, her dark brown eyes sloped up and outward above well-molded cheekbones. Her teeth were large, even, and white. This first time I saw her she wore a green wrap-around sheath and a sarong handsomely embroidered in bright orange”1)
This artwork is a great example in representing other similarly dashing artworks that was created by the artist in the post-World War II era, in 1948. Compared to his earlier works painted in a highly impressionist style with unrestrained interpretation of anatomy exhibiting large hands, elongated arms and bent bodies, the present work shows more detailed execution and complexity in moderate impressionism style. We can appreciate the more details execution on this Le Mayeur’s work, where the subject is painted in multiple layers and dense brushwork with great attention to details from their sharp jaws, sweet visage, strong muscular postures, and healthy figures gaining in complexity with superlative elegance and grace.
It is visible that the works executed in the post-World War II, the artist paid more attention to human anatomy to render subtlety of subject. Arm and hand along with fingers of the women’s body anatomy on the present subject reveal the artist’s more matured stylistic development though it remains in impressionistic style. For its complexity in painting arm and hand, Ni Pollok expressed her avowal when she became his husband’s model, “our hand gesture could not be as backrest, it made me distress. The lively hand gesture, such as picking flowers or dancing, made me exhausted. Mr. Le Mayeur told me that to paint the parts of hand image, especially the fingers are the most difficult for him. Truly, to paint the parts of hand image was intricate, so that when I performed as his model, I was easily tired.”2)
The figural portrayal depicted with maiden in weaving around his house’s garden on the present painting is one of Le Mayeur’s favorites. Three weavers as the models on the current work were repeatedly painted in similar composition and style but in slightly different tone of colors rendering various women’s attitudes. The repetition of each his works may vary slightly in brush details due to the nature of being hand painted so no two painting are exactly the same. The works of Adrien Jean Le Mayeur de Merpres (1880-1958) with similar themes to the present work have been available in auction rooms. Compare with the smaller size (55 x 65 cm) of the artist’s work in similar subject and colors hue entitled to “Three Balinese in the Garden” painted in less vibrant tone than that of the present piece, sold at Christie’s Hong Kong, 25th November 2007, lot. 89. The piece was sold for HK$2,287,500; or equivalent to US$294,172, initially estimated between HK$650,000 to HK$800,000 (see fig. 3). Also, compare with his work in “Women in the Garden Preparing Offerings” (75.5 x 90.5 cm), sold at Sotheby’s Hong Kong, 6th April 2013, lot. 339, for HK$ 5,440,000, or equivalent to US$ 700,672, initially estimated between HK$ 3,200,000 – HK$ 4,500,000 (see fig. 4). Further, compare with similar palette colors hue to “Three Waivers in the Garden” (99.5 x 120 cm) circa 1948, sold at Sotheby’s Hong Kong, 5th April 2014, lot. 113, for HK$7.960,000 or equivalent to US$1,026,203, initially estimated between HK$ 3,800,000 – HK$ 5,500,000 (see fig. 5)
Le Mayeur’s works are highly sought after in the market and they have been exhibited in major auction houses and the world-renowned museums. By depicting the strapping and muscular maidens on this artwork, the artist has successfully conveyed the message describing the hardworking, resilient, strong, and tenacious Balinese women without putting aside their femininity. This phenomenon was commonly found as part of Balinese culture that Balinese women were responsible on supporting their families on their living.
After reaching his idyllic life in Bali throughout his whole career of the world-wide artwork, Le Mayeur was diagnosed with serious ear cancer in 1958. He then returned to his homebirth, Belgium, to be provided with the necessary care. After a two-month struggle, the maestro passed away on 31st May, 1958. The funeral took place at Ixelles, Brussels, and then his wife Ni Pollok returned to her hometown, Sanur village in Bali-Indonesia, to foster the museum inherited by its maestro until she passed away on the 27th of July, 1985 when she was 68 years old. The present work is signed ‘J. Le Mayeur’ at lower right accompanied with an original hand carved Balinese frame.
Seven Leagues to Paradise, Richard Tregaskis, iUniverse, USA, Second Printing, 2000, 16
Ni Pollok, Model Dari Desa Kelandis, Yati Maryati, PT. Gramedia, Jakarta, 1976, p. 56.