Lee Man Fong: Rooster and Hen

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Lee Man Fong (1913 – 1988) was born in Guangzhou, China, and he is the pioneer artist of Indonesia-Singapore, who started learning painting since his childhood. He and his parents relocated to Singapore in 1917 and studied at the Anglo-Chinese School until 1929 before moving to Java in 1932. He studied the Lingnan (岭南) style of Chinese brush painting under Mei Yutian, and oil painting under Huang Qingquan. His first career was a Dutch advertising firm Kolff, and then was a Chinese pianist in Batavia, now Jakarta. In 1941, Lee Man Fong was fully dedicated to be a professional painter. He was the best Chinese artist especially skilled in painting animals, natural landscape, figures and village narrative by showcasing cultural aesthetic art. After arriving and living in Java – Indonesia, the artist completed his stunning works attracting Mr. Soekarno’s attention, the first President of Republic of Indonesia. In 1950s, the president appointed and assigned Lee Man Fong as the palace painter together with other celebrated artists.

Entitled ‘Roster and Hen’, two pairs of rooster and hen subject is painted oil on masonite boards. They are shown standing on top of greenish gray rock ornaments under an upright tree with tenuous leaves without flowers. Its short yet muscular body is decorated with thick white feathers layered with grayish with brownish black at the end of the feathers and crest as well as comb in bright red color. The rooster is painted seemingly standing up straight. The hen is depicted having thick white feathers with grayish layer with its red crest and comb standing by elegantly turning its neck head to the right. The theme of this painting is displayed perspective to the green background with bluish hue. A black line of vertically Chinese poems and a red square seal mark are placed on to upper right.

With vigorous objects for his works, Man Fong portrays the object of roosters and hens applying thickly oil paintings and textured brushwork, that contrast to the surface of the background painted thinly with bluish green color that showing impressive and artistic effects. The artist uses Western styles with Chinese art formats in perpetuating this work. With his fast and spontaneous brushworks, this work produces powerfully rendered composition, where this technique is his style features. Rather small tree trunks with tenuous leaves are swept by brush through well-executed brushstrokes in the xieyi free-hand style. Lee’s work entitled ‘Rooster and Hen’ (121.5 x 61 cm), dated 1977, was sold at Christie’s Hong Kong, 27th November 2005, for HKD204,000, initially estimated between HKD100,000 – 150,000 (See fig. 1).

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Lee Man Fong