Lee Man Fong (1913-1988) is one of the most important pioneer artists of Southeast Asia and his importance is growing as more of his paintings are being exhibited and published.
This exhibition reflects Lee Man Fong¡¯s extraordinary career with works selected from various leading collections. It reaffirms his contribution and influence as a pioneer Southeast Asian artist who created a synthesis of Eastern and Western art and attained a technical excellence rarely surpassed since. These paintings represent Lee¡¯s work from his earliest Shuang-lin Ch¡¯an Manastery (the monastery is better known as the Siong Lim Temple in Toa Payoh), painted when he was a determined and confident 16-year-old in 1929 to his final painting of doves Peace Forever in 1988 on a scale that belies his deteriorating health just before his death.
China-born Lee grew up in Singapore where he was educated in English and Chinese, and studied art first with a Lingnan painter and later with a teacher of oil painting. This solid foundation in both Eastern and Western painting traditions together with the many works he completed during his first visit to Bali in 1941 determined to a great extent the development and formation of his artistic style.
His highly skilful and unique blending of Eastern and Western concepts with themes of the culture and life of Southeast Asia became a sensational success during his six-year sojourn between 1946 and 1952 in Holland. His exhibitions there were critically acclaimed while art lovers and connoisseurs snapped up almost all his works.
In Indonesia he founded the Indonesian Chinese Artists¡¯ Association and led a delegation to tour China for five months in 1956 during which he painted more than 130 works. He would have made a considerable impression on the Chinese artists active during the period. Lee¡¯s fame reached a high point when Indonesia¡¯s first president Sukarno appointed him as curator to the palace collection in 1961 and editor of a series of book on his art collections. In 1967 he returned to Singapore where he was to live and work for the next 20 years.
Xu Beihong (1895-1953), the great Chinese artist whom he met in Singapore in 1941, readily recognized Lee¡¯s promise and described him as ¡°extremely talented¡± because ¡°his works have the power to move people¡±. Xu also encouraged him to ¡°aspire to be a great master of the world¡±.
Dutch art historian Helen Spanjaard puts Lee Man Fong in the category of Indonesian pioneers together with Affandi, Hendra Goenawan and S Sudjojono.
Indonesian critic Agus Dermawan T feels that Lee¡¯s influence as an important pioneer extends beyond Indonesia to Southeast Asia, and perhaps even as far as Europe and the United States.
Singapore artist Siew Hock Meng has great admiration for Lee¡¯s technique, ¡°Even if he had not established his Eastern style of oil painting, he would still have achieved much.¡±
Lee Man Fong himself once said, ¡°China is where I was born; Singapore is my first homeland where I spent my childhood and a large part of my life; Indonesia is my second homeland where I won the highest honour and greatest success of my life. No matter what happens, my only wish is that the three countries be friends and be strong.¡±
This richly pluralistic cultural, social and historical background and individual talent, diligence and tenacity made the Lee Man Fong we know today - a pioneer Southeast Asian artist par excellence.