Lee Man Fong is one of the most prominent Chinese artists in Southeast Asia. Due to his skillful works and Soekarno’s admiration on them, he was later appointed as the Palatial Artist and art advisor to the Indonesian president in 1964. Lee Man Fong’s painting subjects range from the very traditional Chinese themes to panorama of the exotic Bali island to myriad of animal pictures, of which Lee was greatly enamoured with.
Lee Man Fong first experimented with Eastern-style oil painting in 1937 and decisively committed himself to the incorporation of eastern elements in his paintings from 1949 onwards. The clear characteristic of the Chinese influence in majority of Lee’s painting is the usage of the vertical space as his canvas as well as his virtuosic Chinese brushwork.
Being of a Chinese descent, Lee Man Fong realized that symbolism is highly valued in Southeast Asian culture. One of the painter's favourite animal painting subjects, the goldfish, is a Chinese cultural symbol of wealth and abundance and celebrated as one of its most important animal symbols. Eight Gold Fishes (Lot 559) is superlative example from Lee Man Fong’s oeuvre of portraying animals. In this painting, each goldfish was individually characterized in bright tones of orange established with well-executed brushwork.
On the other hand, executed at the same period, Golden Fishes (Lot 558) captured the poetic scene of two dark goldfishes making their way to the little orange goldfish. In comparison to the preceding lot, the composition of this painting is rather clean with little detail on the background, resembling eastern quality on his painting. Another depiction of sea creatures by Lee Man Fong, as indicated by the title, Two Carps (Lot 560) portrayed two black carps swimming in the river. The detail on dirt and plant on the upper left and lower right on the canvas balanced the composition of this painting. Each carp is a mark of the idealized abstract quality of the Chinese brush skilfully rendered by the painter in oil. With both of this works we can notice that the composition of two works are rather loose yet harmonious at the same time.
Executed during 1970s period, A Blissful Pair (Lot 562) is another example of animal that Lee enjoyed exploring. Both goldfish and doves were pieces conceived and executed in the continuous refinement of his eastern-style paintings. This superlative work echoing Lee’s outstanding skill on capturing his subject together with its surrounding.
The White Rooster (Lot 561) portraying a realistic-looking of a rooster on the tip of a rock with mountains as its background. Contrasting the rooster, Golden Calves (Lot 563) captured a serene moment of the two calves devouring their meal and having some rest next to a tree with light brushstrokes and earthy colour.
Finally, The Two Horses (Lot 564) reflects one of the many facets of Lee Man Fong’s exceptional animal exploration. The painting reiterate nostalgic and ancient feeling, where two horses are playing together, established by the use of warm and earthy colour. When we look closely, Lee Man Fong emphasize his subject of painting by giving them a sense of exclusivity, ancient remoteness. Juxtaposing east and west feature on his painting, Lee Man Fong’s free spirit and poetical expression showcasing the beauty of each animals portrayed.