In his early years, generally considered to be the period 1932-46, Lee Man Fong painted mainly landscapes and still lifes. His compositions, particularly for his landscapes, present a profound understanding of Western theories of perspective. One main source of the Western influence was a result of his easy accessibility to Dutch painting of the 19th and early 20th century, particularly those by Israels, Mauve, Maris and other painters from The Hague School; these paintings were frequently exhibited in Jakarta at that time. This influence from the Hague School artists was evident in the artist's handling of a bold, heavily paint-laden brush as well as the use of dark earthy tones, best exemplified by the present Rojak seller (lot 88) and the Two Horses (lot 92). One notes that the dark red or soft pink of his subjects is often subdued by an assemblage of darker tones that set the ambience of sobriety for the paintings.
By the 1950s, Lee Man Fong had reached one of the high points in his artistic career and was beginning to be recognized as one of the leading artists in Indonesia. Many works from this period demonstrated that the artist was becoming acutely conscious of his Chinese root and thus strove to demonstrate that identity through Western painting techniques. With his profound understanding of Western theories of perspective, his works, at the same time, manifested a poetic lyricism close to his Chinese training.
Dated in 1965, the Rojak seller is therefore a superb work that demonstrates the artist's skill at his most eloquence.
It is a classic example of a work that Man Fong integrated his training from the West with his oriental aesthetics. The positioning of the objects as well as the rendition of the sitters clearly demonstrates a Western perspective and training in Western anatomy, the sprinkling of the grasses and rocks in the foreground with the twirling foliage are very much in accordance to an oriental lyricism that immediately renders the work a soft and gentle mood.
Rojak seller also demonstrates a sense of intimacy and belonging as the lady who is engaging in preparing the snacks is being watched by the others in the composition. In many of his large depictions of the Balinese community which he usually titled them as Bali life, the artist rarely allows his multiple sitters to interact with one another. Hence, the weavers, vegetable vendors or the dancers are separated from one another, almost oblivious of the existence of the other in the composition. With Rojak seller, Man Fong constructs a focal point of the Rojak seller that is both interesting to the onlookers in the composition as well as to us the onlooker outside of the work.
With the abundance of fruits, plates and other objects on the table, Man Fong balances the busy left section to the serene and simple of the right section of the work thus creating a curious sense of paradoxical composition where the complicated and the richness coexists with the sublime and the lyrical.