The present lot is an exceptionally exquisite and rare work amongst Adrien Jean Le Mayeur de Merprès’ illustrious opus. The lavish painting encapsulates the Belgian-born artist’s profound interest in Balinese cultural traditions and customs, which he sought to depict through vibrant, ethereal pastoral scenes. His fascination with the beauty of Bali’s inhabitants, namely indigenous women, takes the subject of this work. Executed in the 1950s, the present lot celebrates the ordinary and the mundane, consisting of svelte women strewn across the Sanur beach.
Le Mayeur travelled far and wide, crossing the continents, seeking his muse - from America, and Europe, to Northern Africa, and the Pacific and Indian oceans, he was still left searching, before discovering what he sought on the island of Bali. Entranced by the lush greenery, beautiful women, and rich cultural traditions, the artist made the decisive move in 1932, installing himself in the quiet fishing-village of Sanur. From then, his artistic practice was purely dedicated to capturing the daily activities of Balinese maidens, through dream-like paintings depicting enchanting settings. Quenching his thirst and passion for what he ascertained as the utmost pinnacle of beauty, Le Mayeur’s ever romantic and intimate portrayals of graceful, charming, and hardworking women became the trademark of the artist’s Balinese oeuvres.
Accompanied by an elaborate hand-carved Balinese wooden frame, Balinese Women in Garden stands as a compositionally comprehensive and dense work that epitomises Le Mayeur’s opus. It is a celebration of his two favoured motifs: the natural landscape and womanhood. Set in the garden of his home, nestled just behind a beach, the painting presents multiple maidens at work in the early morning hours. Framed by the dense foliage and verdure that delicately skirts across the upper portion of the painting, four figures in the foreground can be seen seeking shade from the intense tropical heat, as they engage in the traditional Indonesian craft of weaving. Standing out against the muted and subdued ground, these maidens seated under a lush hibiscus tree are garbed in fine, spritely coloured silk sarongs and headscarves, elaborately decorated with floral patterns that chromatically correspond with the fallen flowers beside them.
Through Le Mayeur’s ingenious blends of colour, heavy impastos, and sharp attention to light and shadow, he is able to at once bring these figures to the fore, whilst drawing attention to the surface of the picture plane through the textural qualities of the paint. A luminist and self-proclaimed Impressionist, the artist would carefully carve out these tantalising female forms with thick layers of paint in various daubs of pastel orange, pink and yellow to capture the lustrous shimmer of natural light that gleam against their bronzed bodies. By employing this technique, the artist produces a pearlescent painterly quality that glistens and illuminates through the canvas, bringing yet another layer of dimensionality to the piece.
Delineating his Balinese beauties in repose, in accordance with the artist’s Impressionist tendencies, Le Mayeur exhibits his skill and mastery in capturing the soft contours of the female body form by illustrating varying modes of this classical position throughout the painting. Duplicating the same figural posture twice, the sole reclining maiden in the middle-ground of the canvas is almost an exact replication of the lounging figure towards the fore left – who is interestingly, also mirrored in the identical pose of the woman on the right side of the picture. Through this trope of gestural repetition, Le Mayeur showcases his devout attention towards capturing the corporeality of his subjects, whilst reinforcing a sense of visual harmony and rhythm within the piece.
Situated behind a succession of Balinese stone sculptures, silhouettes of more maidens, veiled by the sun’s rays, can be seen against the backdrop of a vast and rich, jewel toned vista. The ebbing tides, rendered in aquamarine and turquoise, diminish into the horizon of translucent clouds that envelope the sky with pastel yellow and lavender hues. Le Mayeur’s masterful ability to render light and colour effortlessly was his signature, and this piece is a testament to his skill and ingenuity as an Impressionist painter. Technically daring in his practice, his application of separate touches of interwoven pigments, creates a greater vibrancy of colour across the picture plane. His manner of weaving and layering small, yet free brushstrokes works to reinforce a tapestry-like surface of complementary and contrasting hues. Peppered with splintering flickers of white spots, Le Mayeur is able to achieve a pronounced luminosity and incandescence throughout the painting. His obsessive and unequivocal attention to detail in this work reinforces a kind of urgency to capture this picturesque fleeting moment.
Having remained as a treasured piece in the family’s collection since its inception in the 1950s, the present lot has never been exposed to the market and its inclusion in the Sotheby’s Spring evening sale marks a significant appearance. An important work that is both technically complex, as it is beautiful, Balinese Women in Garden is a highly important and intricate work that stands as a pictorial homage to the luscious landscape of Bali and the striking beauty of its people. Encapsulated in Le Mayeur’s distinct Impressionist aesthetic, the picture is a spectacular example of the maestros’ ability to perfectly render and draw out a sense of mesmerising mystery of sun-drenched verdant gardens and the elegant postures of lithe, hardworking Balinese maidens.
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