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From Newspaper Sketch Artist to A Palace Painter – Lee Man Fong

  • Sep 11, 2023

Starting as a newspaper sketch artist, Man Fong's journey culminated in his prestigious role as the official painter for the Indonesian presidential palace. His remarkable career firmly positioned him as one of the most renowned artists in Southeast Asia.

He successfully combined the Chinese and Western styles. The majority of his life was spent in Indonesia, where he crafted a distinct artistic style that harmoniously combined diverse influences to form his serene yet fervent artistic perspective. He frequently used Chinese brushwork techniques while applying Western visual conventions to his composition. A prominent painter and curator, his innovative approach introduced the Nanyang style to 20th-century Indonesia.

He was the first non-Dutch artist to be invited to participate in an exhibition organized by the Dutch East Indies Association–which remarked on his brilliance and greatness. As his artistic reputation continued to rise, he was granted a Malino scholarship endorsed by Dutch Viceroy Hubertus van Mook, whom Lee had previously portrayed, allowing him to study in the Netherlands for three years.

Lee Man Fong's body of work reflects his deep connection to the natural environment, celebrating the wildlife and countryside of Southeast Asia. As a Chinese artist, his heritage played a big role in influencing his aesthetics and creative principles, with the animals depicted in his paintings reflecting his self-identity. The choice of wildlife also provided a sense of familiarity in a foreign setting, grounding Lee Man Fong's oeuvre in images that referenced his childhood in China.

LEE MAN FONG | Before Departure, 1936 - 1940 | Oil on canvas laid board: 64 x 76 cm | Est. SGD 205,000 - 368,000

Horses have been admired for their strength, beauty, and grace in Chinese tradition. Horses hold significant symbolism in the country's history of creative expression. They embody philosophies highly treasured among Chinese scholars and artists. Therefore, Lee Man Fong's depiction of horses in this painting offers insight into the principles he deemed important.

Executed in 1940, this painting may be perceived as a naturalistic painting, considering Lee Man Fong's role as an immigrant living in Indonesia, the animals may represent a deeper and more complex part of the artist's psyche. The painting showcases his skill in observing wildlife while also celebrating his cultural paradigms and Asian values.

LEE MAN FONG | Dance of The Sea-Dayak | Watercolour on paper: 35 x 68 cm | Est. SGD 7,600 - 11,000

We can also observe this in another captivating work titled “Dance of The Sea-Dayak” a watercolor on paper piece measuring 35 x 68 cm. This painting portrays a lively scene of Dayak individuals engaging in traditional dance. The Dayak people, native to Borneo, are renowned for their elaborate tattoos, musical traditions, and dance forms. In Lee Man Fong's artwork, he skillfully captures the dynamic and energetic essence of the Dayak dance.

LEE MAN FONG | Mencari Kutu| Watercolor on paper: 68 x 46 cm | Est. SGD 3,600 - 5,400

Don't overlook his other remarkable artwork, a 68 x 46 cm watercolor on paper titled "Mencari Kutu" by Lee Man Fong. In this painting, Lee Man Fong skillfully portrays two women sitting together, with one woman meticulously inspecting the other's hair for fleas. This artwork vividly captures the everyday life of the Indonesian people, showcasing the deep connection and intimacy between these two women. It stands as a beautiful testament to Lee Man Fong's talent in depicting the ordinary lives of Indonesians in his art.

Our live auction is scheduled to occur between September 1st and September 24th, 2023, concluding with a final live session at 02:15 PM Jakarta Time (GMT+7). We are pleased to accept bids through various channels, including in-person bids, telephone bids, written bids, and online bids via our website: 

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