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 choice of the subject for Twin horses demonstrates the artist's penchant for the animal 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 profound understanding of the subject in reality and hence making them believable.
Twin horses reveals links to the airy and lyrical brush of the Chinese ink masters with whom the subject is always alluded to and not realistically depicted. Comparing Twin horses with another work by the artist of the same subject Family of horses (Christie's Hong Kong, 24 May 2009, lot 76) in which the artist uses a heavier and darker palette greatly influenced by the Dutch masters and reveals the artist's mastery of the perspectives and his exquisite maneuver of light and shade in the composition demonstrates the versatility of Lee Man Fong. Indeed the interplay of stylistic polarities in the two works testifies to the artist's ability to transform and adept to different styles, and thereby to rise above the banal categories that ensnared less powerful artists.
In sum, no brief or simplistic account can properly circumscribe the rich and varied complexity of these paintings of horses, these horses certainly do not carry a message with a lofty content or ideal but they definitely are highly characteristic of Lee Man Fong's adherence to a brand of aesthetics that is fluid and coherent, switching from distinctively western to eastern or incorporating seamlessly, elements of both worlds.