Lee Man Fong: Balinese Dancer

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Born Guangzhou, China, Lee Man Fong was inspired from the Chinese painting technique and subject. Lee along with his family relocated to Singapore when he was three years old. He was then trained in the Lingnan style of Chinese brush painting, and oil painting. Lee Man Fong moved to Jakarta in 1932, the artist started his career as a Dutch advertising firm Kolff and as a Chinese pianist. In 1941, he continued to pursue his passion of artistic career. Considering his best talent that produced an impressive portrait painting, the Dutch Lieutenant-Governor-General, Viceroy Hubertus van Mook, presented a Malino Scholarship to Man Fong and recommended him to study art in the Netherlands for three years. Man Fong boosted his career and began travelling to Europe countries to study Europe painting styles. He organized his solo exhibitions in Europe and Asia countries, and also met other master Chinese artists to look for more inspiring for his work.

In Jakarta, Lee Man Fong also pursued a painting career, and he visited Bali for the first time and spent several months in 1941. This adventure showed instrumental in the development of his characteristic using rich colors and rendering of everyday Balinese scenes. Entitled ‘Balinese Dancer’, Lee Man Fong revived the dancer performance and artist of Bali. The dancer is exquisitely depicted as a woman wearing dance clothing, starting from “gelungan uleg” fully with complexities on top of her head, badong and pink necklace on her chest and neck, long “jarik” with batik design along with brownish “udet” on the lower part, as well as pink shawl unraveled lengthwise scattered to the floor. The dancer is adorned showing the Balinese “Kebyar” dance performed singly (solo). A black seal mark and red stamp are written at the lower right, with a red square seal mark on the upper right.

Man Fong often scenes related to the art of beauty and Balinese life on the theme of his works. One of the themes adopted on his works is Balinese Kebyar Dancer. Balinese dance art has various types, including the types of such Kebyar dance. What differentiates between Kebyar dance and other Balinese dances, the suppressions of Kebyar Dance are the dancers itself interpreting the music feels with their facial expressions and supple moves. As a well-known painter who ever lived and stayed in Bali, Man Fong by his skillfully brushworks are able to record the dance performance stage of a Balinese dancer with her clothes and full of ornament accessories as well as facial expressions and supple body moves as if following the music of Kebyar dance.

Lee Man Fong regularly painted Balinese dancer subjects. For example, compare with his work entitled ‘Dancer’ (102 x 49), sold at Christie’s Hong Kong, 3rd December 2020, lot. 318 for HKD200,000, initially estimated HKD150,000 – HKD250,000 (See fig.1)


Lee Man Fong