Museum Le Mayeur is the former home and studio of Belgian impressionist artist and Bali’s first expat resident, Adrien-Jean Le Mayeur de Merpres (1880-1958), now a somewhat crumbling museum dedicated to his works.
Le Mayeur was in his early fifties when he first settled in Bali in 1932 and it’s evident he was captivated by the light, colour and beauty of both Bali’s landscape and female inhabitants. His model and muse, famed Legong dancer the then 15-year-old Ni Wayan Polok Tjoeglik (1917-1985), became his spouse three years after his arrival, and remained his primary model throughout their married life with many of the works painted within the grounds of his beachside house at Sanur.
Following the end of World War II (during which Le Mayeur was interned by the occupying Japanese) he continued to paint prolifically, often selling works to foreign tourists as his fame continued to grow. In the 1950s the Indonesian Ministry for Education and Culture took an interest in his activities, and a couple of years later the house and its contents were passed over to the government to be maintained as a museum.
One year following the transfer, suffering from cancer, Le Mayeur returned to Belgium for medical treatment, and on May 31, 1958, he died. Ni Pollock returned to Bali and continued to live in the house till her death in 1985.
Designed and built by Le Mayeur, the Balinese-style house surrounded by a compact yet ornate tropical garden occupies a traditional walled compound along the beachwalk on the northern shores of Sanur Beach, no longer in the middle of paddy fields as it once was.
The house itself is of as much interest as the artwork within. The building features floridly sculpted stone walls and red-tiled floors with ornately carved red and black shutters that appear more Chinese in style than Balinese, however some imagery depicts representations from the Ramayana stories. Carved wooden furnishings remain (although much has succumb to termites) and short inscriptions in English and Indonesian in each of the five rooms give an insight as to what life may have been like for the painter and his muse.
Unfortunately most of the paintings are in a very poor state. Some have been replaced by fading reproductions and others are insect eaten, displayed behind glass that is so thick with dust it’s hard to make out any imagery. It’s such a shame to let this important slice of Bali’s heritage rot away and makes you wonder where the original paintings have gone or the money raised from their sale (his works can earn over a million dollars at auction). The powers that be should be embarrassed.
Nevertheless, it’s still a worthy half-hour diversion from serious beach time if you’re interested in art, culture or history. For a better maintained example of the life of an expat painter in Bali (who also married a very young dancer), visit the Blanco Renaissance Museum, or one of the many other terrific museums in Ubud.
By Sally Arnold.
Last updated on 8th February, 2017.
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