Lot 1055
  • 1055

Lee Man Fong

1,000,000 - 2,000,000 HKD
bidding is closed


  • Lee Man Fong
  • Wanita Menenun (Weaver)
  • Signed and stamped twice with the seal of the artist
  • Oil on Masonite board
  • Executed in the 1950s


Art Retreat, Lee Man Fong: Oil Paintings, Art Retreat Ltd, Singapore, 2005, Volume II, p. 51, colorplate


This work is in good overall condition as viewed. The paint layers are healthy overall. 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.

Catalogue Note

Throughout Eastern art history much of the cross cultural exchanges that happened between artists were as inspired by the “other”, notably the interest in a foreign culture that was so very different to incite fascination or that it either complimented the individual’s existing one. The former is apparent amongst the artworks that were created by European artists coming to Southeast Asia. However, it was the latter that can define the region’s history of cultural and artistic relationships between Asian artists and their peers. The Chinese artist Lee Man Fong falls into the second category. His oeuvre was largely dedicated to Indonesia, specifically the island of Bali where he resided for many years, and where he honed his artistic skills and favored motifs.

Women were a staple within the paintings, and similar with an anthropologist who familiarizes themselves with a specific foreign locale and people, Lee Man Fong’s group of women adhere to certain aesthetics and narratives that populated his body of works. The artist remained faithful throughout his career to certain subject matters, and in the paintings continued to delve deeper into their lives and relationships. The present painting Weaver is one such motif that had a defining legacy upon his oeuvre, as well as impact upon the audience’s engagement with the archipelago. The artist’s paintings inspired and influenced by women were never presented in a sexualized context, nor were they beautified renditions of the artist’s fantasy or imagination. As seen in the current work the woman immersed in her domestic task is the embodiment of grace, femininity, and charm.

Lee Man Fong’s paintings that featured Bali were either sweeping narratives of the entire island and its inhabitants, or they were like the painting Weaver that concentrated upon a small vignette of village life. As a Chinese artist many of the paintings that were figurative were vaguely reminiscent of Chinese painterly aesthetics, such as the balanced compositions that harmonized the people with their landscapes, as well as deliberate placement of the individuals in these environments. Very few of the women who inhabited the artworks were aware of the outside gaze, rather they were characters in their own stories, eyes downcast on their activities, or looking far away into the distance past the audience’s reach.

As an immigrant from Guangzhou who relocated to Indonesia for a large part of his career, this foreign status would leave an imprint upon the paintings created during that period. Weavers were a favorite subject matter for the artist. Unlike classical Chinese paintings that celebrated females in such roles as dancers or singers, the women who existed within Lee Man Fong’s paintings did not follow these Eastern stereotypes of womanhood. Instead they remained faithful to their tropical environments and cultural paradigms. Though dancing was an important part of Balinese heritage, curiously the artist chose to depict the women in quieter roles that accentuated their facial expressions, rather than focus on their costumes and regalia. This is evident in the present work, for the woman’s gentle charisma and humility transcends the rural landscape and touches the hearts of the audience.

Lee Man Fong had the opportunity to travel and study in the Netherlands, and this experience would influence his artistic expression. He was an avid admirer of Rembrandt and other like Dutch masters, specifically with their attention to light and shadows, as well as figurative works. All this further encouraged the direction of his paintings from the fifties and onwards. Weaver alludes to the domestic inspired paintings by artists such as Vermeer that captured the simple beauty of daily routines and social interactions, for it was in the ordinary lives of people that revealed the complexities of human existence.

Much of Lee Man Fong’s figurative works found their voices within certain archetypes, and it can be said that the artist sought to redefine such roles within the Balinese narratives. Paintings depicting women have always found their places in archetypal patterns, for it is the artist’s personal history that establishes these fictions with a real voice. The woman shown in the present work is part of Lee Man Fong’s weaver archetype that was a recurring motif throughout his oeuvre. Partly a portrayal of femininity and the roles gifted as per their gender, the painting is also Lee Man Fong’s continuous study of this particular vocation and the women who chose to undertake it.

In the present painting the artist has veered slightly away from other like works from his oeuvre, for the woman is shown in profile with her body partially hidden by the presence of the loom she is working on. Unlike the other weavers who inhabited the paintings and are shown in full profile, Lee Man Fong has chosen to draw attention to the act of weaving itself. He has taken the archetype and extended it beyond the given albeit sexualized connotations of female domestic chores, and has emphasized the moment by having the young Balinese girl with her loom be the focal point of the painting. As an artist he is capturing the young woman’s talents within a set narrative, however as an outsider looking into a foreign environment, Lee Man Fong’s painting pays respect to the Balinese handicraft culture and serves as a visual handbook for tropical livelihoods.