Lot 348
  • 348

Lee Man Fong

3,500,000 - 5,500,000 HKD
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  • Lee Man Fong
  • Bali Life
  • Signed and stamped with a seal of the artist
  • Oil on masonite board
  • 81 by 181.5 cm.; 31 3/4 by 71 1/4 in.


Private Collection, Germany


The work is in good condition overall, the board is free from cracking and warping. There is a delicate abrasion on the wooden pillar, which is only apparent upon close observation. Examination under ultraviolet light reveals traces of minor scattered restoration spots, particularly on the crowded composition of figures, top left and lower right margin. Framed.
"In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective, qualified opinion. Prospective buyers should also refer to any Important Notices regarding this sale, which are printed in the Sale Catalogue.

Catalogue Note

Lee Man Fong, considered one of the most significant and influential modern artists in Southeast Asia, is one of the few to successfully combine the Chinese xieyi style of painting with the oil medium. Skillfully blending Eastern and Western techniques, the artist has become one of the most intriguing and intellectual painters of his time. Lee remains faithful to Chinese painting and strikes a subtle balance between substance and void, light and darkness, bright colors and subdued tones to illustrate themes of nature, culture and life. Mastering the Eastern and Western painting foundations, Lee Man Fong’s subjects explores Bali’s enchanting isles and beautiful women.

The soothing tones depicting the morning sunlight, captures the soul of Bali’s richness. Merging two remarkably different painting traditions, Lee’s interpretation of Bali has remained consistent within each chapter of his life but his entire body of work indicates an evolving sophistication. Polishing his style in his maturity, by the late 1960s, Lee Man Fong produced several magnificent paintings – where the nobility and realism of the subject are showcased against the counterpoint of a minimalist background. Balinese themes are impressively depicted in Lee’s refined and unique style. In Bali Life (Lot 348), each figure performs distinctive roles in the painting’s striking composition.

In this horizontal painting, the scene Bali Life unfolds a narrative, featuring the routine lives of a rural village in Bali – children playing, women preparing offerings, a maiden being groomed and farmers with cockerels on the backdrop. This is a typical depiction of village life in Bali with a fascinating and romanticized arrangement of beautifully posed figures. The sepia tones of the painting are the artist’s trademark, accompanied by the silhouettes of trees and temples, which are discretely outlined. This panoramic view comprises a natural fluidity and is rendered in meticulous detail.

At the center of the composition, a seated lady was carefully selected by Lee to be the focal point of the painting. The most prominent figure in the immediate foreground represents a subtle allusion to an iconic painting in European Art History, The Birth of Venus by Sandro Botticelli. Venus embodies feminine beauty, seduction and persuasive charm in the immortal community of gods and goddesses. Lee characterizes his subject as the object of love and desire. Depicting the stunning and graceful aura of a tropical deity – her beautiful long black hair, lustrous golden skin, distinct features and bulbous breasts are enticing traits of a Balinese woman. 

In Bali Life, Lee uncovers his fascination in the island’s humble customs, ethnic culture and exotic women, illustrating the ethnology of Bali’s essence. The soul and quality of his paintings, was not only able to win admirers amongst the eminent circle of Indonesian modern artists, but also gain recognition among European and Chinese art critics, collectors and painters. This magnificent piece illustrates Lee’s elegant and masterful fusion of both Eastern and Western painting through the language of his selected subjects, styles and techniques.