• Southeast Asian Modern and Con auction at Christies

    Sale 2721

    Southeast Asian Modern and Contemporary Art

    30 November 2009, Hong Kong

  • Lot 1182

    LEE MAN FONG (Indonesia 1913-1988)

    Man with horses

    Price Realised  

    LEE MAN FONG (Indonesia 1913-1988)
    Man with horses
    signed and inscribed in Chinese '1948/autumn/Man Fong' and stamped with artist's seal (upper left)
    oil on board
    17 x 42 in. (43 x 107 cm.)


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    "The oriental style of oil painting created by Mr. Lee Man Fong is definitely a great artistic bridge. Though he is not a 'formalist', he created a unique style never seen before. He is also not a realist painter, yet the artistic conception in his works evokes a certain type of oriental wisdom, teaching people to adapt to the imperfections of life." (Siew Hock Meng, "A Debate with Mr. Lee Man Fong" in Lee Man Fong Fine Selection, Soobin Art Gallery, Singapore 2000, p. 10).

    The unique blend of the East and West aesthetics is always the most apparent characteristic noticeable of the works of Lee Man Fong, yet the ingenuity of the artist went far beyond that. Trained in both Eastern and Western techniques, the versatility of the artist in both styles are to be expected and not an achievement. What was more remarkable of the artist was his promptness to forget the rigorous division of the disparate disciplines and reveals an impassioned immersion into both, creating works that straddle comfortably in both worlds.

    Xu Bei Hong, the renowned Chinese painter considered as one of the pioneering artists of Chinese oil painting is much admired by Lee Man Fong and acknowledged as a source of reference by the latter. Not unlike Man Fong, Xu was also adept in both traditional Chinese ink work as well as with oil and Xu's famed depiction of the horses has a direct influence on Man Fong. Xu's horses are depicted in multiple forms and types and engaging in different activities, be it the pensive white horse by the river or the galloping, spirited one, the artist depicts his subject with a calligraphic precision and simplicity which is emulated by Lee Man Fong and delicately shown in the present composition.
    Man with horses sees an almost sectional composition with two elegantly horses painted grazing on the left-center section of the composition while a figure of a man is shown on the right. Between the horses and the figure and faded in the background is the lower half of what is possibly a makeshift bamboo tentage. Connecting the two sections of the composition is the gaze of the figure, cast towards the horses tenderly, lovingly and watchfully. Man Fong's painted figure is skillfully rendered a few deft and articulate lines rendering a highly expressive and realistic depiction of the man. Labour is an equation of the tender relationship between beast and man in this present composition. Man Fong has painted the man with a large basket tucked between his legs, preparing feed that is quite possibly intended for the grazing horses. The limbs are elongated and powerfully graceful, a supreme idealisation of the act of labour. The man is at work but quite evidently enjoying it.

    Opting for the subtle effect of a Chinese ink and brush work, it is remarkable for Man Fong to create a similar feel of the soft and diffusing effect of Chinese ink on paper with the use of oil on board. This gives the subjects a light and precarious feel making them seem more casual and unpremeditated. Generally monochromatic with the only apparent green on the shirt worn by the old man, the subjects are generally quite sketchily rendered as if proximity at this moment for the artist demanded an emphasis on process and expression and not an allegiance to mimetic description.