Adrien Le Mayeur
Balinese Painters: Le Mayeur

In his native Belgium the artist Adrien Jean Le Mayeur de Merpres found little recognition for his work and his patrician family saw him as a free booting adventurer. Unsurprisingly therefore, the artist decided to leave Europebehind and seek his fortune in the exotic Orient. In 1932, at the age of 52, he arrived on Bali. He would remain there until shortly before his death. In his lodgings in the South of Bali he feverishly worked at an exhibition which was to be held in Singapore. From the beginning he was fascinated by temple rituals and dances. He was also impressed by the girl Ni Pollok whom he met on an occasion when she was dancing the legong. At the exhibition in Singapore in the beginning of 1933 more than thirty pastels and paintings of Le Mayeur's were shown; all of them had to do with Bali and had titles like Rosy Morning, Balinese Dancer, Beach Impressions, and Balinese Weaver. The press was enthusiastic about the exhibition. One paper wrote: 'The artist has produced coloured pictures without entering into great detail', which was an accurate description of Le Mayeur's airy post-impressionism. Almost all his work was sold and the painter decided to return to the island that attracted and inspired him. He bought a piece of land at the beachof Sanur and built a house there and laid out a beautiful garden.

In the meantime Ni Pollok had reached the age of sixteen, which was too old according to Balinese tradition to dance the legong. She now had enough time to pose for Le Mayeur and very soon became his lover and only model. From that time onwards, Ni Pollok figured in a wide variety of ways on dozens of paintings. In 1935 the painter married the girl who was then eighteen. In contrast to other European painters like Bonnet, Spies and Hofker, Le Mayeur was not interested in Balinese painters and their art. There was little contact between them and Le Mayeur. From an extensive survey that Margaret Mead made among dozens of painters from Batuan and Sanur it appears that only two of the Balinese artists had ever seen the painter and some of his work.

In 1941 Le Mayeur had another exhibition in Singapore. Besides work he had done on Balihe presented work he had done earlier with scenes from Belgium, Indiaand Venice. Ni Pollok could be seen in elegant dancing poses. Shortly afterwards the war broke out. The Japanese did not intern Le Mayeur because of his Belgian nationality, but he was put under house arrest. When, as a result of the war, painting materials were no longer available, Le Mayeur used rough jute for canvas. He often used crayon and very probably also natural paints like those traditionally used by the Balinese. Although Le Mayeur came through the war without many problems, he certainly did not have pleasant memories of the years in which tourism had totally disappeared and so many of his colleagues and friends had fled or were imprisoned in camps.

After the war, tourism slowly made a comeback. The myth of Bali gained new life with songs as in Rogers' and Hammerstein's 1949 musical South Pacific, in which the choir brightly sings: 'Come to me, come to me; Here am I, your special island; If you try, you'll find me; Where the sky meets the sea; Here am I your special island; Come to me, come to me; Balihai, Balihai, Balihai.'

In voyages organized by the KPM, visits to the artist in Sanur were included as an extra attraction. Le Mayeur usually walked around bare-chested and in beige bermudas. Ni Pollok patiently posed for the lens­es of thousands of cameras and produced the most delicious meals. The couple's hospitality was bound­less. In the March 1951 issue of National Geographic Magazine it was even reported: 'Though people wander in and out their house all day, Le Mayeur's hospitality is unending'. Tourists eagerly bought paintings from the Belgian Balinese, and in that way his work became part of many collections all over the world.

In those years Le Mayeur's health was often less than good. He regularly suffered from malaria, which increasingly weakened him. In 1948 he fell off his little horse Gipsy and broke a leg. The painter, now 68 years old, never entirely recovered and from then on needed a cane. In 1951 the old artist was assaulted by a group of robbers and it was only with great difficulty and with assistance called in by Ni Pollok that the criminals were driven off. The painter had received a large stab wound in the shoulder.

After the uneasy fifties, peace returned to daily life on Bali and the stream of tourists greatly increased. Sukarno, much charmed by Ni Pollok, bought two large canvases for his art collection. Although the old painter's work exhibited less strong brush strokes com­pared to his earlier work and the figures appeared to be less coherent, he remained a colourist pur sang, with a palette on which the colour green was increasingly important.

In 1958 Le Mayeur travelled to Brusselswith his wife for treatment of cancer of the ear. The illness proved terminal and the painter died on May 31, 1958. Ni Pollok returned to Baliand married an Italian physician who, like so many foreigners in those troubled times, had his residence permit revoked and was obliged to leave. Ni Pollok stayed behind on Bali. As Le Mayeur had provided in his will, she was allowed to live in the house in Sanur up to her death in 1985. The house and its contents, including a hundred paintings by Le Mayeur, were then donated to the Indonesian government and converted into a museum.



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