Lee Man Fong | IAS 2019 €50.000,-
signed and stamped (upper left in black and red)
oil on board, 87,5×46,5 cm (within the passepartout)
Executed early 1950’s.
‘Though he has been exposed to strong Western influences, the Chinese predominate – and the mixture of these widely divergent traditions did not lead to a hybrid, inwardly inconsistent whole, but to an artistically sound style.’ (Hans Rookmaker, Trouw, May 24, 1950)
Lee Man Fong was born in 1913, in Guangzhou, China, one of 10 children. At a young age, the family moved to Singapore, where Man Fong would eventually make ads and artwork to earn a living. In 1932, he moved to Jakarta, where he was inspired by work of the artists at the ‘Nederlandsch-Indische Kunstkringen’ and the counter movement Persagi. In 1941, he visited Bali for the first time, and made a series of solemn oil paintings, that still breathe the Hague School impressionist atmosphere. One year later, he was incarcerated because of his opposition to Japanese colonialism in Indonesia. Between 1947 and 1952, through a scholarship he received after being recommended by the Dutch Governor-General van Mook, the artist resided in the Netherlands. During these six years, Man Fong held four solo exhibitions. The works he exhibited in The Netherlands were well-appreciated then, and even more now, by current collectors of his work. The current lot was one of these paintings, probably exhibited in The Hague, Amsterdam or Haarlem. After returning to Indonesia in 1952, Lee Man Fong lived in Jakarta, and was so respected as an artist that art-savvy President Sukarno asked him to become his personal art advisor and editor of a five-volume edition of Sukarno’s vast art collection, in 1964.
In the course of his life, he went back to his Chinese roots, switching from the impressionist way into a more calligraphic way of painting, applying his pigments onto long-stretched boards, of which the current lot is a typical example. Lee Man Fong was known to keep roosters, chicken, doves and parrots, as well as dogs and a huge pond of goldfish in his garden, and he would frequently paint these animals from life.
It is not coincidental that Man Fong painted doves at rest, seated on a moss-covered rock. Being of Chinese-Indonesian descent, and having lived in Singapore for many years, he like no other realized that symbolism is highly valued in Southeast Asian culture. Doves are associated with long life and fidelity, considering doves pair for life, and take great care of their young. The orange blossoms that grow from the tree could symbolise this long life. There is a meaning to the number of doves being depicted as well. In Chinese culture, the number 2 is associated with happiness and a harmonious existence. There is a Chinese saying that goes: ‘Good things come in pairs’; a couple is considered a good omen of descendants and the family line being continued.
The signature style of LMF, showing a sharp contrast of Western and Eastern influences, is clearly present in the current painting; the doves are painted in a rich impasto, impressionist way; however, the branches with its thin-inked outlines, the graphic tree bark and moss textures, and the foggy surroundings creating an atmospheric perspective, are clearly referring to the classic Chinese way of calligraphic painting.
‘The fierce way of depicting the Notre Dame, the delicately fluent outline of the reclining nude, they all have a common ground with our contemporary artists. How many of them haven’t studied ancient Chinese and Japanese art!, and how many of them have unconsciously interwoven derivatives of this ancient art in their work.’ (Nieuwe Haarlemse Courant, July 6, 1950)
It is striking to see the reviews of Dutch journalists being so laudative, in a period so shortly after the Second World War, in which generally little attention was paid, let alone appreciation was felt for art with Eastern or ‘(former) Dutch East Indies’ themes. Even one of the most famous, and for his razor-sharp criticism, notorious art critics, Cornelis Veth, visited Lee Man Fong’s exhibitions. But he too was full of praise:
‘The fact that the Chinese oil paintings, shown at this beautiful exhibition, are mentioned so emphatically, has its reason. The work of this modern Chinese artist, who lives in Amsterdam and has worked in Indonesia a lot, strongly resembles watercolours. […] … everything is being told in a unprejudiced and gallant way, with these elastic lines, this sophisticated colour, and the sometimes imposing, sometimes nebulous, fairy-like landscapes.’ (Cornelis Veth, Haagsche Courant, 13 mei 1949)
Gianni Orsini MSc. July 2019
- Date 23 juni 2020
- Tags Topstukken