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Lee Man Fong – ‘The eagle’

Lee Man Fong ‘The Eagle’ – 122 x 60 cm

LEE MAN FONG (1913-1988)

’The eagle’, signed and dated February 1948 upper left in traditional Chinese, board, 122 x 60 cm.

Provenance: acquired directly from the artist in the Netherlands.

Exhibited: Lee Man-Fung, exhibition rooms Kunst van onze Tijd, Mauritsplein, The Hague,
May 1949.

Literature: Chinese schilder zag Java en Bali, Algemeen Dagblad (NL), May 14, 1949, illustrated.

Auction: Indonesian paintings, 8th of June 2017.

Estimate: € 80.000 – 120.000.

We are proud and happy to present this masterpiece by Lee Man Fong (1913-1988) in our next Indonesian auction of the 8th of June 2017!

The subject of this painting is unique in the artists oeuvre, so you cannot find comparable paintings in books or auction catalogues. However, there is a newspaper article that shows this painting (in the article they call the artist Lee Man Fung).

When another Lee Man Fong owner showed it to me, was my first reaction: ‘Wow! I wish I could see the real painting one day!’. The miracle happened not so long ago. I did not search for it, but somebody send us an email with the painting! Now it is in our auction.

Gianni Orsini wrote this article for the catalogue:

‘The oriental style of oil painting created by mr. Lee Man Fong is definitely a great artistic bridge. Though he is not a ‘formalist’, he created a unique style never seen before. He is also not a realist painter, yet the artistic conception in his works evokes a certain type of oriental wisdom, teaching people to adapt to the imperfections of life.’ (Siew Hock Meng, ‘A Debate with mr. Lee Man Fong’, in: Lee Man Fong Fine Selection, Soobin Art Gallery, Singapore, May 12-21, 2000, p. 10)

Lee Man Fong was fond of animals. He 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. Born in Guangzhou, China, raised in Singapore and going through his formative years in Jakarta when it was under Dutch, Japanese, and ultimately Indonesian rule, and living in the Netherlands in the years following World War II, Lee Man Fong was inspired by many cultures and teachings. In the course of his career, Man Fong reinvented his Chinese heritage, switching from the European impressonist way of painting into a more calligraphic way of handling his brushes, painting onto long-stretched boards, typically circa 100 x 50 cm, portraying all kinds of animals that are at ease, wandering around in a more or less ‘perfect world’. This style of painting has become Man Fong’s trademark.

The current lot, however, is a unique piece because of its multiple symbolic meaning. In Chinese metaphors, an eagle on a rock in the sea symbolizes a hero who fights a lone battle. In ancient animist beliefs, the Eagle is considered one of the Primordial Animals, together with, amongst others Naga, the mythical snake, inspired by which undulated keris came to be, and Bedawang Nala, the cosmic turtle that carries the world. In the Hindu and Buddhist teachings of India and Indonesia, Garuda is a mythical bird appearing as the vahana (vehicle) of Vishnu. Indonesia’s national symbol is Garuda Pancasila, and the national airline Garuda Indonesia. In this painting, Man Fong combines the symbolism from his Chinese and Indonesian roots, without judging or discriminating. The deeply metaphorical backgrounds of these ancient cultures blend into a single work of art.

Taking a closer look, we see pride and perseverance of the bird of prey expressed to a maximum: seen from the back, and looking over his shoulder, with a determined look in his eyes, the eagle becomes a divine character. The low viewpoint from which the bird is painted and the glowing sun about to set, emphasize its heroic status.

In the series of vertically elongated paintings that Man Fong did from the 1940s onward, the current lot takes a very special place. Not only because he mainly portrayed Balinese ladies, rudjak sellers, and a vast array of animals -but never a bird of prey-, but also simply because of the size. Usually, Man Fong used board sizes of circa 100 x 50 cm (ref. lots 37 and 81; 99 x 45 cm, and lot 82; 91 x 40.5 cm). The current lot is considerably larger (122 x 60 cm), adding to the impressive character of the bird and the painting.

Exhibited in The Hague in 1949, where it was probably bought by the (father of the) current owner. Man Fong’s paintings were well received by the media at the time. The renowned Dutch art critic Cornelis Veth commented:

‘In these painted contours, so broad and spot-on, there is a continuous tension and movementin both colour and tone. Relievo and a distinct picturesque quality are spontaneous yet thought through. This Chinese painter reveals to us the grandeur and the mystique of the Indies landscape, in a way that only very few Europeans are able to. He portrays the people with a naturalness, a grace and a humor that only observation and understanding combined are able to grasp.’
(Cornelis Veth, in: Haagsche Courant, May 13, 1949)

This combination of observation and understanding, and the combination of Chinese and Indonesian cultural heritage congregate into the current lot, making it a seminal work of art within the oeuvre of Lee Man Fong.

Gianni Orsini, May 2017

More information about this painting or about our Indonesian auctions (Indische veilingen) in general:

René de Visser

Zeeuws Veilinghuis
Herengracht 74
4331 PX  Middelburg
The Netherlands
0031 (0)118-650680