“It is plain that the refined and sensitive Balinese make the most of their daily routine, leading a harmonious and exciting, although simple existence, making an art of the elemental necessities of daily life – dress, food, and shelter.”- Miguel Covarrubias, Island of Bali
Le Mayeur was a purveyor of beauty. Born and raised in Belgium, Le Mayeur went to university to become an engineer before pursuing his passion in art. In the footsteps of the post-Impressionist Paul Gauguin, Le Mayeur sought to travel the world in search of his Tahiti. In the Indonesian island of Bali, he found resplendent architecture, luxuriant flora, radiant light all year round and a beautiful wife: his search for his muse was over. He boldly declared: “I will live exclusively for my art and nothing shall distract me.”
This work by Le Mayeur is an early piece created just as he was settling into life at Bali. These early works are characterized by earthy tones that dominate the canvas—an ode to the sun-kissed tropical life in Bali. His brushstrokes in these works are firmly Impressionistic, distinct for their broad and flat character, unblended to capture individual rays of light. It is also devised in an open composition, extending beyond the canvas as we imagine the scene beyond these boundaries, allowing us to understand that this is but a small section of a far larger scene.
In the present work, we see five Balinese women caught in an everyday routine. One woman stands under an umbrella as two women walk by in front of her carrying goods on their hands and head. Le Mayeur shows two other women lounging on the ground caught in conversation. In the background, majestic Hindu temples stand firm, in contrast to the deft and airy movements of the women pictured. Le Mayeur had a gift for capturing forms in media res, always choosing to paint outdoors whenever he could. As one figure takes a step down, we see the subtle details in how light falls upon her batik skirt, and her bare back foot forms a soft shadow as it lifts off the granite. This eye for capturing the subtleties of light brings his subjects to life – on each canvas, he exhales an intimacy of place that is radically empathetic.
Le Mayeur was part of the generation of Mooi Indies (Beautiful Indies) colonial painters who portrayed Indonesia, especially Bali, through the gaze of a foreign painter discovering an island of unparalleled beauty. However, Le Mayeur’s subjects, while undoubtedly subject to his romanticized gaze, are far from distant. Perhaps a more nuanced reading of Le Mayeur’s work is one of “bounded authenticity”1: within the confines of Le Mayeur’s eye, a deep and genuine sense of gregariousness bursts forth.
1 Elizabeth Bernstein, Temporarily Yours, University of Chicago Press, Chicago and London, 2007, p. 103.
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