Pacific Asia Museum Hosts Major Meier Retrospective

Theo Meier Painting
By William J. Furney

The Bali Times

NUSA DUA, Bali ~ An exhibition of the works of one of Bali’s most famous expatriate artists, Theo Meier, has opened at Museum Pacific Asia (Pasifika) in Nusa Dua, showcasing 68 works from four other museums and 10 collectors and marking the Swiss man’s centenary, the curator said.

More than half the priceless paintings – which can fetch tens of thousands of US dollars at auction – are from Pasifika’s own collection of Meier’s, exhibition curator Georges Breguet told The Bali Times.

“We wanted to do this special exhibition to mark 100 years of Theo Meier,” said Breguet, himself from Switzerland and a frequent visitor to Bali.

It was not an easy task, however, to gather together the works, many of them rich displays of Bali’s culture and vistas, redolent with primary reds, yellows and greens and earth-tones to reflect the tropical environment.

“At the beginning, we didn’t think we would be able to do it. It was very difficult to get the paintings from the different organizations. But we managed to get all of them in the end,” said Breguet.

Many of Meier’s works clearly reflect the effect of his chief influence, the French painter Paul Gauguin and his native island girls of Tahiti, with similar use of bold strokes and a vivid palette and a Balinese version of the post-impressionist’s theme.

Indeed, it was on a return journey to the South Pacific island when, in 1936, Meier briefly stopped off in Bali but, captivated by what he saw, settled down. He would not leave until 1957, when he went on a short trip to Basel.

There are many accounts of the Meier’s scandalous womanizing in Bali and bouts of heavy drinking. He had two wives, though was not legally married to them, and each gave him a daughter. Later in life, the artist moved to Thailand and married a local woman there.

His fondness for the good times was apparently the stuff of legend, and, Breguet said, he was “not really children-oriented.” As a result, he said, his daughters and their children in Bali are not actively involved in his legacy.

His personal life aside, Meier found fame during his time as an artist in Bali.

“In the 40s, 50s and 60s, Theo Meier was one of the most important expats in Bali, and knew all the Bali royalty and officials,” Breguet said, adding that Indonesia’s founding president Sukarno was a friend of the painter and many of his works remain in the presidential collection.

In the global art market, Meier paintings can easily command six-figure sums, and interest in the Indonesian market is high, according to art experts. Breguet says Indonesia’s market is one of the most lively in Southeast Asia, and points to robust interest in art among wealthy Indonesians as a way to park their cash for investment growth. Government ministers and officials beat a track to Pasifika when they’re in Bali, says Breguet.

“Indonesia is one of the most important countries for art in Asia. There’s a very strong art market in Indonesia, where prices can reach billions of rupiah,” he said.

“It’s probably due to the influence of the Dutch, who did a lot for painters. The Dutch school of panting was very important at that time.”

As for Meier, who died of bone cancer at a Berne hospital in 1982, aged 74, would he recognize his then-virgin Bali from the thundering international tourism success it has become? Most likely not, says Breguet. Back then, the expat community was a small clique and everyone knew everyone else. Unofficial data put the number of foreigners living in Bali these days at upwards of 10,000.

“Bali has changed. Now there are so many expats; before, just a small group – I knew all of them.”

Theo Meier, a Centenary Tribute, runs until April 27.

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