"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
One of the most iconic Lee Man Fong painting to appear at auction, Panen Lotus (Lotus Harvest) is a subject that Lee Man Fong is known not to have repeated. Singular in its rendition in Lee Man Fong’s oeuvre, the work is a masterpiece much cherished amongst Lee Man Fong’s rarest 1940s works. The 1940s in Lee Man Fong’s career was a period of extreme creativity, and many of his works were singularly iconic. Distilling scenes from everyday life, many of these works can be read as parables, where the artist shares lessons in life with the viewer.
Stylistically, Panen Lotus recalls the works of the great Ming monk-artist Bada Shanren with his expressionistic tendency. Similar in character to a work such as Stag and Pine, where brushwork is dominantly minimalistic, round, wet, translucent and eccentric; Lee Man Fong’s Panen Lotus exhibits the same soft modulated washes and colours as Bada Shanren, as well as the slightly exaggerated and caricature-like rendition of pictorial subjects. Opting for the subtle effect of a Chinese ink and brush painting with ink washes, it never fails to amaze that Lee Man Fong has created this effect with oil painting. Imbuing his subjects with a lighter and more ethereal feel, the artist underlines his unique ability to make a picture full of pathos and expressiveness.
Like other works of the 1940s, Panen Lotus has been composed with in the continuous refinement of his eastern-style paintings. In these pieces, Lee Man Fong experimented with the creation of pictorial space and depth, and pushed the limit of the oil brush to the execution of brush strokes with the oil brush. The creation of depth within the painting is a harmonious marriage of the traditions and sensibilities of eastern and western painting, which the artist was pursuing all through his career. But more so than any time, it was in the formative period of the 1940s when he was still grasping and perfecting his technique that any achievement is especially significant.
Distinct from other Chinese painters like Xu Beihong and Lin Fengmian who were contemporaneous to Lee Man Fong, he put down his Chinese brush to paint oil paintings in a Chinese style (or what has been termed by a number of critics as eastern-style oil painting too) which is firmly acknowledged as Lee Man Fong's contribution to the field of Chinese painting. In the best tradition of Chinese brush painting where objects or scenes portrayed is a symbolic or allegorical expression of the artist's feelings,
Depicting life in an imaginary utopian Balinese community where the relationship between people and the land is intricately linked and manifested in their ceremonies and rituals, Lee Man Fong demonstrates his admiration for the customs and traditions that hold Balinese society together. Religion and ceremonies form a large part of the Balinese culture and define the lives of most Balinese people. Unlike the majority of Indonesia, which follows the Islamic faith, over 90 percent of Bali's population follow the Balinese Hinduism religion. Temples, offerings of food and flowers, incense and images in the arts and crafts are all signs of the island's faith.
Panen Lotus exudes a light and calm feeling, as if the world was all contented within itself, free of strife, grief and negative energy. The maiden in the shallow pool gives selflessly, offering a platter of freshly picked lotus pods for the figures in the vessel. Read as a pictorial theme, it is a picture that exhorts the value of generosity, giving, paying one’s dues, and of gracious receiving. A number of Lee Man Fong’s works of the 1940s were narrative in this fashion, with a positive metaphor accompanying the painting. The figures portrayed in the painting are part of a representation of blissful communal life, where young, old, male and female can convivially live together. It is a picture that upholds an ideal Lee Man Fong and others of his generation were perhaps seeking in the immediate post-war years.