Lot 443
  • 443

Lee Man Fong

400,000 - 600,000 HKD
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  • Lee Man Fong
  • Boy with Flute on a Buffalo
  • Signed, stamped with a seal of the artist and dated 1951
  • Oil on Masonite board
  • 89.5 by 33 cm.; 35 1/4 by 13 in.


Private Collection, USA


The work is in very good overall condition as viewed. Upon very close observation, a network of faint, hairline craquelure, consistent with the age of the work, is visible. Under very close inspection, there are a few small, pinhole sized spots of brown media accretions visible along the right edge of the work. There is a 1 inch long, diagonal mark above the right side of the bull (visible in the catalog illustration), which is inherent to the work. Examination under ultraviolet light reveals no sign of restoration. 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 was born in the Chinese province of Guandong in 1913, but spent most of his adult life in Southeast Asia. After World War II, the artist was granted a Milano scholarship and spent six years in Europe, an ideal environment for cultivating his art. The experience bolstered his ability to paint in Western style with dexterous verisimilitude, yet Lee was inherently attached to his Chinese roots and remained fascinated with the compositions and calligraphic brushwork of traditional Chinese ink paintings. It is evident in the present lot that although Lee utilized the more forgiving, Western medium of oil paint, he painted with the delicacy and precision of an ink painter. Finding an affinity with two polar aesthetic traditions, his opus became a spirited cross-fertilization of Eastern and Western elements, creating a novel visual language.  

Inspired by the canonical ink works by Chinese Master Li Keran, Lee Man Fong optically lengthens the work by painting long, sinuous tree branches spanning the height of the painting. The delineated stony terrain on the left, juxtaposed with the vacuum of space, on the right, warps the viewer’s sense of perspective and imbues a dreamlike quality to the work. Translucent blue hues provide a cool mist, a contrast to the more opaque, earthy browns used to outline the composition. Lee blankets the work with a layer of haze, as hints of lightly-painted verdure appear faintly through the negative space. The artist purposefully positions the bull and child above an invisible backdrop, suspending them in the midst of an endless, blank road.

The bull’s advancing body floats in mid-air, directly parallel to the framework of the stones and tree-bark beside it, creating the illusion that the animal and its environment are dancing in accordant synchrony. Though the boy rides a zealous, wild bull, he closes his eyes, unperturbed and oblivious to his physically precarious position. Without being overt or literal, the artist displays an unspoken dialogue of trust by subtly evoking a sense of balance and security. Concentrating on the notes and pace of his melody, the serene, young boy is entranced by his own music. The position of his legs is akin to that of the sacred lalitasana pose, or the gesture of royal ease, which appears in ancient bodhisattva images from the Tang dynasty. Harking back to a classic, godly posture engenders a sense of elegance and sublimity to the young boy’s aura.

Given the graceful camaraderie between the child, the animal and the natural environment, the journey home seems rhythmical and effortless. While Lee uses traditional Chinese techniques, he does not bind himself to their formal aspects and takes the artistic liberty to augment the work with a distinctive, personal flavor. Progressive in his approach and relentless in seeking to assimilate the sensibilities that bespeak the contemporary aesthetic, Lee Man Fong became the embodiment of the reformist Chinese painter.