Adrien Jean Le Mayeur de Merprès
- Adrien Jean Le Mayeur De Merprès
- The Lotus Pond
- Oil on canvas
- This work is accompanied with the original frame of the artist
- Le Mayeur, in a letter written in Bali, dated 8 July 1946
Belgian painter Adrien Jean Le Mayeur de Merpres (1880-1958) was defined by his ceaseless search for beauty, which eventually brought him to the Indonesian island of Bali in 1932. Till the end of his days, Le Mayeur firmly identified as an impressionist – even after modernism had come to dominate twentieth-century art and impressionism had gone out of vogue.
From a young age, Le Mayeur intended to become a painter in his father's footsteps. While circumstances forced him to enroll in Engineering at university, he soon returned to painting in the Impressionistic tradition, rendering Belgian landscapes in hazy color. After voluntarily enlisting in the First World War, Le Mayeur packed his suitcases, and travelled the world, taking after the nomadic post-Impressionist Paul Gauguin. It brought him to India, Cambodia, France and, of course, Gauguin's Tahiti. However, it was only in Bali that Le Mayeur found "beauty, sunlight and silence" in a "perfect state," eventually marrying his muse and frequent model, the charming legong dancer Ni Wayan Pollok Tjoeglik (1917-1985), colloquially known as Ni Pollok.
The piece at hand, characteristic of his late work, is one of several pieces he left unfinished upon his death. It depicts six women in and around a pond adorned with Balinese statues, with a half-arch of overhanging flowers and leaves in the foreground and a Balinese house in the background. His impressionist style helped to blur the boundaries between subject and background, allowing colors and textures to bleed into each other in a hazy afternoon light, reminiscent of French impressionists such as Armand Guillaumin.
Le Mayeur's travels introduced him not only to a new subject matter, but also to a color palette that could not be further from the muted and depressive grey-blues of his wartime oeuvre. The earthy, warm and sun-kissed palette of brown, yellow and beige favored by late European impressionists is evident in this piece, also favored by Mooi Indies painter Theo Meier, who put a more radical twist on the same palette. However, this piece is notable for the distinctive bright bursts of green and pink that appear not only on the vibrant tree in the foreground and scattered on the statues, but is also seen as clothing on the bodies of the women depicted. This seems to suggest a seamless and harmonious relationship between these women, Balinese religion and nature itself, a deceptively simple yet fluid image of interconnected existences. But the flashes of vivid color contrasted with his warm palette provide moments of clarity in the painting: the overall image is not one of straightforward harmony, but of fluctuation between intensity and quiet. In Le Mayeur's words, "I feel like in this day and age simplicity is the most persuasive and disturbing form of originality."2
The women here are pictured from an aerial perspective, echoing Degas's paintings of ballerinas. They have Le Mayeur's signature lithe forms, interacting not with each other, but with their surroundings. Le Mayeur's early works in Bali often focus extensively on the female anatomy, impossibly contorted bodies with exaggerated hands and arms rendered suggestively as if frozen in mid-dance. His wife, Ni Pollok, who often served as his model, wrote of posing for hours under the excruciating tropical heat in her memoirs – as Le Mayeur noted himself, his quest for beauty made "all things serviceable to [his] art."3 These figures are possibly all Ni Pollok herself.
His later work turned toward a more scenic style of painting, populated with more female figures that no longer served as central focus of his work. Instead, he began painting vistas, allowing him to experiment with perspective, seen with his depiction of the pond in a curvilinear form, giving the most static object in the work a sense of vitality. Furthermore, this allowed his experiments with shadow and light to transcend the female form. Paint is thickly applied for the effect of agile light, with a green-beige of reflecting leaves on skin, and white accents on walls and water.
Today, Le Mayeur's work endures as a chronicle of Balinese beauty, as seen through his eyes and brush. This piece is truly telling of Le Mayeur's intimate affection for his chosen home, singing songs of warmth, synchrony and love.
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.119.
2 Ibid., p.189.
3 Ibid., p.120.