The Digital Adventures

Theo Meier-CH21B

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(Hard Times Ahead, Lost Treasures)

Back to Rubic. Like many young Balinese girls who showed talent, she had begun dancing as soon as she could walk. Even before she reached her teens she was a very talented and popular Legong dancer, known from one end of the island to the other. She didn’t read music, but she could feel it. She gave the dance meaning. Theo recalled that she danced enchantingly with unbelievable intensity. “Theo did hundreds of paintings of me,” she said. “Not all were finished but they all sold. In the beginning I didn’t mind him painting me in the nude but later I didn’t like it. I said no but he kept saying he wanted to paint me. Often when I didn’t go to the house to visit Anni he came to my house in Bedulu with all his paints and canvases. I would tell him, ‘There are other pretty girls here.’ He would say, ‘I don’t want to paint them. I want to paint you.’ My parents didn’t mind.”

Once when Sukarno came to Bali, Theo arranged for a gamelan orchestra and dancers to perform for him. Rubic was one of the dancers but when Sukarno began to take a particular interest in her, Theo ushered her away. Theo knew well about Sukarno’s uncanny love for women.

When Theo was in his painting mood, he was oblivious to the world around him. He became completely immersed in his work. He had a great capacity for losing himself while painting, it was if he became part of the canvas before him. It is not a little puzzling that when he returned home one evening he found the canvas he was working on that morning had been slashed to pieces by Pergi. She knew he had slept with the model by the expression on the model’s face. What could Theo say to his wife; he couldn’t deny it. That was not the first nor the last time. Pergi became increasingly unhappy with Theo and his affairs. Theo failed to realize his wife was very jealous of his models, and that included Rubic.

  • Photo caption on page 194 of the book: Legong dancer, Rubic was a favorite model for Theo. He painted and sketched a hundred pictures of Rubic, she later claimed.

As time went on, Prince Sandith made more frequent visits to Bali. He loved Bali and he loved Theo’s companionship. Bali was his escape from the rigors and protocol of the royal life he had to live in Bangkok. Here with Theo he could do what he pleased. No one cared if he drank too much arrack. No one minded when he jumped into the pool behind Theo’s house and frolicked with the young maidens. No one admonished him or questioned him.

But the good times weren’t to last forever. Times were changing, even on Bali. Old friends were leaving; new faces were appearing. The art colony was terribly saddened when Le Mayeur became critically ill and returned to Belgium for treatment. He never saw his beloved Bali again. He died in Belgium. In his will he left the land at Sanur to his wife with special instructions that upon her death, half would be bequeathed to the government to be preserved as a museum. The remaining land was to be inherited by Ni Pollok’s family.

The early 1950s started off well on Bali but by the end of the decade changes were in the wind. Sukarno was finding himself in political troubles and turned a cold shoulder to the foreign artists living on Bali. He made the claim that Western-style democracy was unsuitable for Indonesia. Instead he called for a system of “guided democracy” based on what he called traditional Indonesian principles, principles that gave him absolute power. The Indonesian way of deciding important questions, he argued, was by way of prolonged deliberation designed to achieve a consensus. He proposed a government based not only on political parties but also on “functional groups” composed of the nation’s basic elements, in which a national consensus could express itself under presidential guidance. And he was the president, naturally. During this later part of his presidency, Sukarno came to increasingly rely on the army and the support of the Communist Party of Indonesia. He increased his ties to the People’s Republic of China and admitted more Communists into his government. He also began to accept increasing amounts of Soviet bloc military aid.

  • Photo caption on page 196 of the book: Pergi, Theo’s wife, looking out the window while Theo paints her. She was becoming very unhappy with Theo and his antics.

On November 30, 1957, an attempt was made to assassinate Sukarno by a grenade attack while he was visiting a school in Cikini, Central Jakarta. Six children were killed but Sukarno did not suffer any serious wounds. The perpetrators were members of the Darul Islam rebellious group. In December he ordered the nationalization of 246 Dutch businesses. In February he began a crackdown on rebels in the republic.

He also began to lose favor with the people when he met and married a Japanese hostess, Dewi Fujin, at the Kokusai Club in Akasaka, a place for foreign VIPs. She became Sukarno’s fourth wife.

Sukarno began to spend unlimited funds for public monuments, buildings and for private luxuries for himself and his four wives. The problem was that Indonesia needed to repair its infrastructure devastated by a decade of war and rebellion. Indonesia was not meeting its food needs and shortages were becoming serious. The Government was printing money and inflation began to surge into the hyperinflation range. He did not concern himself with the economic problems. He instead devoted his time to political posturing. He played games in international politics flirting in turn with the Soviets, the Chinese and the West. He verbally abused the West because he found this brought responses, not only from the West but also from the Soviets and Chinese.

For the foreign artists living on Bali the axe fell in 1957 when Sukarno nationalized all Dutch assets and thousands of Dutch citizens were expelled from Indonesia. Han Snel and Arie Smit, even though both men had become Indonesian citizens, were ordered to report to the Indonesian authorities in Jakarta. Only after Theo made a plea to Sukarno were they permitted, after months of waiting, to travel back to Bali.

The pressure for Theo was on. He wasn’t a Dutch national but hanging over his head was uncertainty. He could no longer turn to Sukarno for support.

But it was more than a threat of exile, a threat of getting kicked out of the country, which upset Theo. He could deal with that. But he couldn’t deal with what he learned when he discovered Pergi had fallen hopelessly in love with a young musician. He found it hard to believe until he confronted her. His years of philandering with his models had reached a point of no return with Pergi. In desperation Theo attempted to reconcile with her but without success. She admitted she loved him but love was not enough. She and Theo parted and she moved in with the musician, taking Anni with her.

Theo was devastated, heart broken and he needed time to think. Whatever he decided to do, it was certain to have repercussions. Bali to him had been a thing of beauty, but it was not, as Keats had written, a joy forever. The things that had excited Theo at one time no longer did.

Disenchanted, Theo decided to return to Switzerland for a spell. Perhaps away from Bali he could dear his mind. It was a bad decision. Once he did return home, he did not find the peace and calm he was seeking. On the contrary, it was quite the opposite. When he went to claim the paintings he sent back from Australia with his friend Lucas Staehelin, he learned Lucas no longer lived in Switzerland and his family flatly refused to surrender the paintings to Theo, claiming their son had given them to them as gifts. They were adamant and Theo felt it might be their revenge for taking their son away to the South Seas. He was probably right.

Then Theo was hoping to collect the paintings that he had sent to his sister Helen Meier for safekeeping. He was both appalled and shocked when he discovered that she had given them all away. He couldn’t believe it; she had given them away like they might have been dish towels.

“What did you expect,” she declared in a huff. “We didn’t think you’d ever come back.”

“You had no right to give them away,” Theo cried. “You can give anything away. You can give your jewelry away, your body, but not my paintings.” She only scoffed at him. What had been done, had been done. There was no getting the paintings back. Theo could only postulate on the many hundreds of paintings he had lost. There were the Japanese when they invaded. As a Japanese officer was to explain, did not his soldiers use Theo’s paintings confiscated from his house for covers for card tables, and to make sunshades, and to give others to coolies for payment for their work. And there were his female nudes taken aboard Japanese warships for shipment back to Japan, but could they not be at the bottom of the ocean, the ships sunk by the Allies? Six years of work was lost. How many others? The mulatto woman in Martinique who defaced the oil he painted of her. There was the painting his wife Pergi slashed when she found he was unfaithful and had slept with the model. The savages in the New Hebrides took his paintings and burned them when they believed the canvases had captured their souls. The warlords in China that he had to give paintings to for his safe passage. And how many hundreds had he given away as gifts and favors. Even Milos in far off Tahiti had Theo’s oils hanging in his Robert Luis Stephenson shack. How many had Milos given away to pay his debts? And Schooner Third Sea had a Theo nude hanging in the galley. Theo painted the nude especially for the schooner. And what about the carvings he made for the schooner, two in the main saloon that measure ten feet long, They were donations.

Theo was not the man to give up. He wanted to pick up where he left off. He returned to Bali hoping, perhaps, to reconcile with Pergi and begin all over again. He was sadly mistaken. He was too late. Pergi had married her musician lover. Then he found he was in deep trouble with the authorities. The police had ransacked his house in Sanur and found his drugs and medicine. When he enquired the reason, he was informed he was being accused of practicing medicine without a license. It was true, he had been helping the sick when they came to him for help. The medicine came from friends that he asked to bring when they traveled abroad. There was even talk that Pergi’s husband had hired a bomoh to poison Theo to get rid of him. Theo was disenchanted. He no longer enjoyed food, found it difficult to paint and defending himself was becoming a drain. He was emotionally exhausted. He reckoned he either had to leave or else go to jail. He didn’t fancy the thought of going to jail.

It was Prince Sandith Rangsit from Thailand who came to his rescue.

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