Lot 018

b. China, 1913 – d. Indonesia, 1988


Signed ‘M.F. Lee’ with Chinese seal (lower right)
Watercolour on paper
45cm x 34cm

Private Collection, Singapore.

ESTIMATE  RM 15,000 - 25,000

Known as one of the most prolific painters of Indonesian art, Lee Man Fong is no stranger to the regional art world. Represented here is a woman of Indonesian origins discerned by her traditional garment seated with poise on the ground, her arm resting on a basket containing fruits. Titled Fruits Seller, the subject matter is typical of the artist depicting women and men going about their daily business contemporary to his time in Indonesia. The figure is finely outlined in black ink and bolder strokes are swiftly sketched to accentuate the folds of her kebaya, sarong and selendang. Pastel hues are applied to illustrate her gracefulness while her bright red lips represent femininity.

Lee Man Fong arrived in Singapore in 1917 and studied at the Anglo-Chinese School until 1929. He migrated to Java in 1932 and worked for Kolff, a Dutch printing and publishing company. In 1936 the head of the Dutch East Indies Association in Batavia invited Lee to participate in an exhibition, a great honour since he was the first non-Dutch artist to be given this opportunity. He devoted to painting full-time after 1940 during which he visited Bali and worked briefly there. He also held solo shows in Jakarta and Bandung. Lee established himself as a talented artist through his paintings of Balinese subjects, many influenced by the work of Willem Hofker. He then held a one-man show in Jakarta in 1941, after which he was held captive by the Japanese. In 1949 Fong was awarded a Malino scholarship to study art in the Netherlands. He returned to Indonesia after three years after which his talent was acknowledged by President Soekarno, to whom he became an art advisor. Between 1955 and 1961, Lee served as the chairman of Yinhua Meishu Xiehui (Society of Chinese Artists in Indonesia) and from 1961 to 1966 he served as court painter at the presidential palace. In 1964, Lee Man Fong alongside Lim Wasim, compiled a deluxe 5-volume edition of the Soekarno Collection, of which many of his own works are also featured. Lee was awarded Indonesian citizenship during this period. In 1967, when Soekarno fell from grace, Lee who had close association to the president and was alleged to have communist inclinations resulted in his migration to Singapore in 1970. His career continued to thrive, and he was often given lucrative commissions by Chinese businessmen who wanted him to paint animals of the Chinese zodiac. In the 1980s the artist suffered from kidney and heart disease and became increasingly private. He returned to Indonesia in 1985 and passed away on April 3, 1988 in Jakarta.