(Indonesian, 1913-1988)
Off the Racetrack
signed in Chinese (lower right)
oil on board
102 x 49 cm. (40 1/8 x 19 1/4 in.)
Painted circa 1977
two seals of the artist
Acquired directly from the artist by the grandfather of the present owner
Private Collection, Malaysia
Ho Kung-Shang, The Oil Paintings of Lee Man-Fong: The Pioneer Artist of Indonesia and Singapore, Art Book Co., Ltd., Taipei, Taiwan, First Edition: 1984 (illustrated in colour, cover of monograph and plate E18, p.32)
The Singapore Mint, Reminiscence of Singapore's Pioneer Art Masters, Toppan Printing Co., Singapore, 1982 (illustrated in colour no.18B).
Marseille, France, May 1977.

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Lot Essay

Classically trained in Chinese ink tradition and having completed a painting course in the Netherlands, Lee Man Fong was exposed to and came to embrace the dark palette of the Dutch Impressionists. Xu Beihong, the renowned Chinese artist who is celebrated for his blend of East and West in his oil works influenced Lee Man Fong greatly.

In this centennial year celebration of Lee Man Fong's birth, Christie's is proud to present a series of paintings by Lee Man Fong that depict the artist's favourite animal subjects. Known as a lover of animals, Lee kept flocks of doves, roosters and cockatoos, as well as dogs and a large pond of goldfish in his own garden, often painting them from life. This enabled him to capture their natural traits, distinct colourings and even from time to time, individual expressions.

Many of Lee Man Fong's animal paintings bore strong cultural and symbolic meanings. This is seen in Cranes of Longevity (Lot 280) and Golden Calves (Lot 283). Both works express the importance that the artist placed on Chinese culture and its meaning in his life and his works. The crane is a Chinese cultural symbol that is connected with the idea of mortality, and is considered one of the more important motifs in Chinese mythology. According to the Chinese Zodiac, people who are born in the year of the Ox are industrious and hard-working individuals who are often respected. Lee Man Fong has painted both the cranes and calves in a dignified manner. The colour yellow, is considered to be a prestigious colour that signifies abundance. Through these paintings, one is able to see the artist's loyalty to his culture whilst he incorporated Western painting techniques.

Peace Doves (Lot 281) and Off the Racetrack (Lot 282) come from a private Malaysian collection, where the original owner knew Lee Man Fong personally and acquired both works directly from him. Both works are more Oriental in appearance, provides a vividly realistic rendition of the doves and horses respectively. The inscription in Chinese on the composition further accentuates that the oil on board was treated like a traditional ink and brush work by the artist as the long standing tradition of inscription on an art work, either by the artist or a collector went back as long as the history of painting in China.

Having painted both works towards the later period of his career when he had relocated to Singapore, Lee Man Fong was living near the turf club and had access to seeing magnificent race horses grazing and resting when they were not racing. His horses are lovingly rendered, in great detail and stand as a hallmark of his later, more realist animal paintings.

As a universally recognized symbol of peace and love, the doves in A Loving Couple (Lot 284) is a romantic ideal and one can see Lee's mastery in technique in the perfectly composed painting that conveys a sense of pastoral tranquility. Despite their simple narratives, Lee's paintings are colourfully alive, vividly realistic and capable of evoking intense emotions.

Ayam Jago (Lot 285), a powerfully rendered composition in Lee Man Fong's characteristic style, depicts a rooster in a regal posture. Composed with textured brushwork, contrasted against a nearly empty spatial background brings forth a magnificent and dignified atmosphere, fit for a champion.

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