Lee Man Fong stands out brilliantly amongst his peers as the artist whose work hovers back and forth between the Western and Eastern aesthetics. Classically trained in Chinese ink tradition and having completed a painting course in the Netherlands where the artist was exposed and came to embrace the dark and fluid palette of the Dutch Impressionists, Lee Man Fong is undoubtedly well versed in the two aesthetics and by the late 1940s has developed a vernacular of his own of which he is distinctively recognised.
The present work reveals links to the grand tradition of the Dutch masters whose mastery of the perspectives and exquisite maneuver of light and shade are succinctly crafted into his compositions, and simultaneously the present subject of a family of horses, adorned elegantly with foliages sporadically is an evocative, albeit decidedly minimal allusion to the expressionist style of Chinese ink work in which realistic forms are only hinted at and never copied.
The choice of the subject itself demonstrates the artist's penchant for the animals but it also coincides with the favourite subject of Xu Bei Hong (1895-1953), a renowned Chinese artist who is celebrated for his innovative blend of East and West in his oil works and an individual much admired by Lee Man Fong. The imagery repertoire of the animal is extensive, from Xu's airy and poetic depictions to the ever elegantly poised horses of Giuseppe Castiglione (1688-1766), Lee Man Fong draws from a expansive resource which renders his much studied subject a sense of theatricality, subdued only by the artist's profound understanding of the subject in reality and hence making them believable.
The present composition has a subtle sensation of a Chinese landscape which is measured and contained. As a master of the Western oil with an Oriental sensibility, Man Fong varies the density of the medium which is usually heavier comparing to ink to create a beautifully nuanced surface, full of the light and painterly incident that one finds in his best paintings of the 50s.