Acquired directly from the artist in Bangkok in the late 1970s
Private Collection, Bali
Didier Hamel, Theo Meier, A Swiss Artist Under the Tropics, Jakarta, 2007, p. 125, colourplate 203, illustrated in colour
"Primitive strength, the archaic attracts me. In this form Art is more expression, and more definitive in beauty," Theo Meier declared in an interview (Klaus Wenk, Theo Meier: Pictures from the Tropics, Verlag Stocker-Schmid AG, Zurich, 1980, p. 28). These qualities he found in Bali, which he visited in 1936 and would not leave till 1955, and which transformed his art from the tame, 'theoretical' expressionism of his early career (influenced by the great masters of that genre, Emil Nolda and Otta Dux) to one that was far more emotional.
Meier, like many expressionists, sought the links between primitivism and high culture, having developed artistically in his native Bâle in Switzerland, as well as in Berlin and Dresden in a period and atmosphere that placed on the same pedestal folk, primitive and classical art as well as printmaking, painting and sculpture from all periods and corners of the world. This of course was made possible by the vast ethnographic collections of the German museums and the number of world fairs held at that time. Van Gogh, Cézanne and Henri Rousseau were greatly admired and, of course, Gauguin. When he first saw an exhibition by this artist, he said he was 'carried away into another world.' (ibid, p. 11) However a visit to Tahiti in 1932 destroyed the illusion of a paradise, for what he found there seemed far removed from Gauguin's paintings. Meier came to feel that Gauguin painted only in his dreams.
Bali, however, changed everything for Theo Meier – the primitive and refined, the savage and the divine, were all fused into one exhilarating living experience. 'The tropical landscape is not at all as we see it. It is, rather, an experience,' the artist once said. The epiphany transformed Meier's canvases into uninhibited expressions of colour. As for his figures, he revealed that he was better able to paint people in whom he perceived 'a primeval vital strength' (ibid., p. 28, 29).
In the late 1950s, Meier accepted an invitation by his friend Prince Rangsit to paint in Thailand. When Indonesian authorities refused to permit him to return to Bali, he set up home permanently in Chiang Mai. The present work, executed in 1977, is characterized by the 'monochromatic' tones he favoured in the seventies. It is dominated by bright hues of red and orange, which he created with varying mixtures of burnt sienna and carmine.
Meier's figures were sometimes naturalistic and at other times heavily stylized. This painting of three nude figures in a garden belongs to the former category. The woman in the middle is standing with her sinuous figure framed by Cassia fistula (golden shower tree), while the two seated women flank her left and right, anchoring the triangular composition. The figure on the left holds up a mask which strategically covers the main figure's lower body. The juxtaposition of the mask in front of her is unconventional and provocatively discordant, as though having learnt to tap into his artistic soul through Bali's 'primitive strength', the artist was finding a more comfortable, pure and natural form of expression in his mature years. Both simple and bold, this work is a fine example of the artist's paintings in his later career, when he was perhaps, in concept, colour and form, at his most expressive and unbridled.
Please call 1-800-555-5555 to order a print catalog for this sale.