RESEARCH & ESSAY.
Born in 1913 in Guangzhou, China, Lee Man Fong (1913 – 1988) is one of the most important pioneer artists honored in the modern Southeast Asia paintings. In 1917, together with his family, Lee relocated to Singapore, and he grew up there then studied at the Anglo-Chinese School until 1929. In 1930, the artist moved to Indonesia and worked for Kolff, a Dutch printing and publishing company, in 1932. Lee Man Fong. He was invited by the Dutch East Indies Association in Batavia to participate in a painting exhibition in 1936. The artist was awarded the Malino scholarship from the Netherlands lieutenant-governor general and studied in Holland for three years in 1940, and he and held his solo exhibition there. After returning to Indonesia, Lee served as palace painter at the presidential palace from 1951 – 1966.
In Indonesia, Lee Man Fong was recognized as a first Chinese-born articulating the need for artistic expressions that reflected a new modern China and Western art at the middle of the 20th century. The artist created the monumental oil paintings with epic Chinese themes by his highly skilled in an essential Western art technique. His mastery at blending Eastern and Western influences in oil painting made him one of the most recognized artists, and one of his paintings become the most expensive Southeast Asian artwork on auction to date. Through the present ‘Family of Horses’, Lee Man Fong narrated how his family and legacy survived the turbulence of his ever-changing life. ‘Family of Horses’ subject on the present work references iconic elements of Chinese creative culture. Lee applied oil strokes bearing the delicacy of the Chinese ink brush, rendering distinct, fine outlines alongside nuanced shading.
The subject ‘Family of Horses’ on the present work, Lee Man Fong was inspired by the late pioneering Chinese artist Xu Beihong (1895-1953), who integrated Chinese and Western painting. Lee Man Fong met the great Chinese artist, Xu Beihong, and Xu recognized Lee’s promise and described him as ‘extremely talented’ artist. Xu said that Lee’s works have the power to move people, and Xu also encouraged Lee to inspire to be a great master the world. Through the present ‘Family of Horses’, Lee Man Fong narrated how his family and legacy survived the turbulence of his ever-changing life. ‘Family of Horses’ subject on the present work references iconic elements of Chinese creative culture. Lee applied oil strokes bearing the delicacy of the Chinese ink brush, rendering distinct, fine outlines alongside nuanced shading.
Entitled ‘Family of Horses’, the present work is truly inspired from Chinese master of painting arts, especially Hanging scroll that was painted ink on paper by a father of modern Chinese painter Xu Beihong (徐悲鸿) (1895 – 1953). For example, the scroll entitled ‘Three Stallions’, ink and color paper, by Xu Beihong in similar style to the present work was sold at Christie’s Hong Kong, 28th May 2010, lot. 768 (See fig. 1). Through his magnificent ‘Family of Horses’ subject luxuriously painted oil on masonite, the artist was committed to delivering a special message to strengthen and foster a spirit of tenuous peace relationship between Western and Eastern countries in his eras.
The present work is similar style to part of Lee’s work (117 x 235 cm), dated 1966, sold at Sotheby’s Hong Kong, 6th October 2009, lot. 398, initially pre-sale estimated from HK$ 1,500,000 – HK$ 2,500,000 (see fig. 2). The style of horses on the present work are also frequently depicted on other Lee’s works. See his work entitled ‘A Pair of Horses’ sold at Sotheby’s Hong Kong, 5th October 2013, lot. 481, for HKD750,000, initially estimated between HKD 350,000 – HKD550,000 (See fig. 3).