Collection of the late Professor Arthur Lim
Singapore, NUS Museums, National University of Singapore, The Arthur Lim Benefaction: Twelve Important Paintings, 2003, cover and pg. 20, colorplate
In accordance with the habits of an Impressionist painter, Le Mayeur painted outdoors to capture sights bathed in natural light. A photograph of the artist painting the present lot finds him facing the view of his sunlit, lavish garden. It is no wonder that his art seems to exhale the fresh breeze of the tropical alfresco. His cottage, located in Sanur beach, at once served as his studio, exhibition space, and a guest home where he and Ni Pollok would entertain diverse diplomats and other Indo-European artists. Le Mayeur explains, “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 [Ni Pollok’s] beauty.”1
It is ubiquitously known that Le Mayeur’s portrayal of feminine beauty was influenced by his profound affection for his spouse and muse, Ni Pollok. His statement above provides us with a glimpse into the meticulous mind of this artist; for Le Mayeur, beauty must be presented on a suitable platform and ensconced within a picturesque ‘frame’. In the present lot, he deliberately positions his dancers under a canopy erected by supporting columns, two of which flank the group of women. These dancers are precious beings, worthy of protection. In a similar fashion, winding branches of flowers create an arch that hovers over the ladies in Three Weavers in the Garden, while a wooden loom compositionally elevates them in the picture plane. In both works, sunlight filtered through the verdure above blankets only the space of the women, serving as an organic spotlight.
It is imaginable that Le Mayeur acquired his penchant for structure from Impressionist painters in Europe such as Pierre-Auguste Renoir, who also designated importance through the arrangement of figures against the elements of their landscapes. In By the Water, Renoir depicts a child illuminated by daylight and bordered by vines of leaves on either side. He instills stability to the composition by including a wooden fence running along the lower segment of the canvas. The water body receding into the distance of the backdrop creates an illusion of depth. Concomitantly, Le Mayeur releases the tension caused by his sturdy framework by including an expansive beach along the horizon. Additionally, he includes a series of pillars in the foreground waning backwards into the picture plane, creating a sense of space and linear perspective.
The meticulous artist also pre-meditated the order of the girls such that they form a visual circle around the kneeling dancer at center, who is captured in the midst of theatrical movement. Two standing women strike a pose in harmonious synchrony, while four of their peers observe in repose. Though the women appear independent and do not overlap spatially in the image, their comfortable demeanors are suggestive of a mutual rapport, respect and familiarity. His decision to feature women rehearsing amongst one another other, yet focused on their unique tasks, is akin to that of Edgar Degas in his painting Madame Cardinal. In Madame Cardinal, the intent dancers seem oblivious to their onlookers, caught up in the throes of their practice. The art of dance is at once personal and a shared experience.
It is evident that through his aesthetic process of capturing the splendors of the island, Le Mayeur truly assimilated into Indonesian culture. Given that he often painted Hindu and Buddhist sculptures in the background of his paintings, as seen in Three Weavers in the Garden and Balinese Dancers, it is conceivable that he was influenced by ancient Indonesian portrayals of dance, such as the flying Apsara. Apsara maidens, known as Bidadari in Indonesia, are celestial nymphs and awe-inspiring dancers. In this relief fragment from the Borobudur, the divine Apsara is the cynosure of all eyes, mesmerizing her smitten audience. Though she vigorously bends her arms and legs, she bears a meditative expression on her face as she serenely floats in the air. Likewise, Le Mayuer’s effortless yet spirited dancers exude a quiet aura of composure and grace. As apparent by the flying birds and hanging foliage surrounding the Apsara, ancient carvings are often embellished with local flora and fauna. In the same way, the intertwining, sinuous vines in Le Mayeur’s landscape mimic the contours of the sprightly arms and nimble, moving bodies of the dancers.
Apart from his depiction of lavish nature and delicate women, it is his distinctive coloring and the manner in which he applies pigment onto the canvas which truly makes Le Mayeur a feted artist. There is an air of spontaneity palpable in his bold, thick brushstrokes. Without too much detail or modelling, he smears numerous layers of paint until he captures the perfect colors to replicate the effects of the natural light he would have witnessed before him. One can observe the variety of light effectively captured; from lighting strained through dense trees, producing a green shade over the image in Dancers, to the warm, orange glow cast from the afternoon sun in Three Weavers in the Garden, and finally, to the exuberant but cloudy morning haze that drenches the scene in the present lot. He perfectly balances warm and cool colors, even finding deep grays and purples within dark shadows.
The painting summons a safe haven housing young ladies so in tune with their culture and natural milieu. Incandescent, warm and inviting, this work radiates with a certain vibrancy and joy: it is truly telling of Le Mayeur’s love for Bali, an abode that brought the artist absolute bliss and liberation so tangible in his aesthetic expressions.
1 Dr Jop Ubbens & Dr Cathinka Huizing, Adrien Jean Le Mayeur de Merpres: Painter-Traveller/ Schilder-Reiziger, Pictures Publishers, Wijk en Aalburg, The Netherlands, 1995, p. 109. (Letter nr. 18, Bali 8 July, 1946)
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