Adrien-Jean Le Mayeur De Merpres’s painting titled “Temple Festival in Bali” was sold for HK$7,700,000 ($993,666) by Christie’s at the Southeast Asian Modern and Contemporary Art auction in Hong Kong on May 30, 2011
From the lot’s note:
More than any other Indo-European artist of the modern period, Belgian-born Adrien-Jean Le Mayeur de Merprès has been pivotal in creating the myth of the Balinese female as artistic muse. Although he was extensively schooled in art since boyhood and already an accomplished travel painter during his early career, he is irrevocably best known for the works which focus on his wife, the temple dancer Ni Pollok, and her coterie of beautiful Balinese maidens within lush tropical landscapes. Like most young European middle-class males who yearned to see the world, Le Mayeur first left his native Belgium as a sailor bound for the United States. After a lengthy period of travelling through geographically far-flung places such as Africa, Tahiti and India, Le Mayeur finally discovered Bali at the ripe age of 52. Deeply enthralled, he settled down to paint out his remaining days in this island paradise, declaring “Cette fois j’allait vivre exclusivement pour mon art et que rien ne pourrait m’en distraire.” (“This time I shall live exclusively for my art and nothing shall distract me.”)
Le Mayeur’s rich, luminously tinted canvases illustrate the idyllic island setting of Bali, recreating it as the Polynesia of the East. Preferring a warm colour palette and semi-impressionistic style which infused his works with tropical sensuality, Le Mayeur excelled at depicting the grace and languor of Balinese dancers moving in a climate of warmth and charm. His artistic highlights undoubtedly are the vibrant group scenes, showing young dancers congregating on a wooden verandah during the heat of the afternoon or rehearsing in a sun-dappled garden overhung with hibiscus flowers and palm trees. This present work was most likely painted in his early Balinese period, bearing close compositional and colour palette similarities in particular to two works exhibited in his third Singapore exhibition in 1937.
“The first period [until 1937] is characterized by an approach to paint which is less thick, and has a more transparent, draughtsmanlike execution than that which follows… In this period he also creates some multi-figure pieces, for instance market and temple scenes. It is a very free, expressionist period, as is demonstrated by the unrestrained interpretation of anatomy (big feet, elongated arms and bent figures). As the decade passes, this expressive turn becomes more marked. Detail, in the form of flowers and leaves starts to become more important. An intense and subtle use of colour combination with sparkling light remains his main force. Although his work depicts daily life in Bali, he is still an exponent of late European impressionism, which favours a gentle, earthy palette of yellow, brown, beige and soft blue which is contrasted to red, pink, orange and purple accents.” (Drs. Job Ubbens and Cathinka Huizing, Adrien-Jean Le Mayeur de Merprès: Painter-Traveller, The Netherlands, 1995, p. 127)
Temple Festival in Bali deservedly ranks among Le Mayeur’s finest works; offering a rare and comprehensive portrayal of the festive marketplace in front of the village temple on special feast days. The visual structure emphasises the crowded foreground, using a perspective of concentric circles across the horizontal plane which culminates in the central performance, illuminated by the patch of sun-ensconced ground; in imitation of the artist’s precise breadth of view according to his positioning within the scenario. The immediate activity is vividly and dynamically described, with a rich variety of detail and gestural quality. This is strongly contrasted with the artist’s secondary technique of thinly layering pastel shades to create pictorial depth within the background, only providing the barest delineations of shapes and shadow. The combination of these two distinctive forms of addressing pictorial texture creates a mirage-like quality, rendering a momentary tableau, a dramatic interlude within Le Mayeur’s idyllic Balinese days. The dancing girls in their high elaborate headdresses are still the focus of Le Mayeur’s visual attention, but also unusually prominent and carefully illustrated are the male musicians and attendant villagers who throng around the performers, enjoying a meal of native fruit and social conversation. The entire composition is beautifully framed by the elegant ritual parasols, hanging vines of the banyan trees overhead and fronds of banana leaves in the distance, while the imposing arched pagoda of the Hindu temple shimmers behind the joyous crowd.