Lot 1056
  • 1056

LEE MAN FONG | Rojak Seller

2,000,000 - 3,000,000 HKD
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  • Lee Man Fong
  • Rojak Seller
  • Signed in Chinese, inscribed and stamped with a seal of the artist
  • Oil on masonite board
  • 90 by 122 cm; 34 1/2  by 48 in.


Sotheby's Singapore, 29 April 2007, Lot 148
Acquired by the present owner from the above sale
Private Asian Collection


This work is in good overall condition as viewed. There is evidence of wear along the edges of the work and some chips to the board at the corners of the work due to abrasions with the frame. There is a small crack at the basket at the left side of the main figure. There are two liquid accretions below the girl on the right, but this is only visible under ultraviolet light. Any other inconsistency is due to the artist's working method. Examination under ultraviolet light reveals no sign of restoration as viewed. 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

Lee Man Fong was an artist who found the greatist inspiration in the everyday, and dedicated his career to composing lyrical masterpieces of life and harmony. After relocating to Indonesia in 1932 from Singapore, Lee was granted the Maino scholarship in Holland by the Dutch Vicery in 1946, which allowed him to spend six years of formal artistic training abroad. In the years 1946-1952, Lee’s works were featured in exhibitions in Amsterdam, The Hague and International Salons in Paris, which marked him as a modern veneration of the East. Upon returning to Indonesia, Lee’s artistic palette immediately stood out with its rejection of traditional formalities, as his distinctive illustrations assimilated the technicalities of Western oil painting with Asian aesthetics. Widely celebrated as the father of reformist Chinese painting, Lee crafts a stylistic oeuvre which employs shan shui and xie yi Chinese methods in tandem with Western approaches, which embodies beautifully his deep-seated sentiments and love for his Chinese heritage. His paintings always aimed to provide a vivid narrative of the rural landscape, chronicling Southeast Asian themes, people, flora, and fauna in all their diversity.
Classically recognizable, Rojak Seller gives viewers a rare vignette into the vibrant lives of the village people of Indonesia. Lee Man Fong’s choices of subject matter have always strayed towards the observational, his paintings often documenting scenes of daily life. Rojak Seller is part of the artist’s Bali-inspired paintings and provides insight into his personal experience as a foreigner living in Indonesia, a stint that deeply impacted his aesthetic. In the present lot, Lee pays homage to Chinese calligraphy and painting through his depiction of a hawker preparing rojak, a traditional fruit and salad dish, for a humble family of three.

It may be said that “As an Oriental artist, he has renewed and transformed Western oil painting by imbuing it with the essence of Chinese ink painting, achieving a mutual identity between subject and object, at the same time vastly opening the restrictions on traditional Chinese painting."[1] Lee’s cohesive color palette and gentle brushwork congregate to portray his uniquely personal style – expressing a multicultural visual language, awakening the pictorial reveries of the daily lives of the Indonesian milieu. Brimming with a heavenly, dream-like atmosphere, Lee’s delicate brushwork details the immaculate gesticulations and features of each character, as warm pigments diffuse into their exquisite curves and contours. He avoids harsh lines and definitive edges, communicating subject matter through suggestions of form within darkness and light. Inspired by his travels and studies in Europe prior to settling in Indonesia, Lee was particularly influenced by Dutch artist, Rembrandt and his employment of light and shade. As demonstrated in the present lot, Lee adopted the careful application of shading and manipulation of light to capture the sinuous contours and curvatures of the human figure and the objects around her.

Uninterrupted, the rojak seller exudes serenity and warmth, as Lee renders her in earthy bronzed tones, setting her apart from the faded grays of the terrain. His palette is muted and earthy, the most vibrant of which is applied to the cloth of the satay vendor’s attire and her cornucopia of fruits, drawing the viewer’s attention to the woman as the nucleus of the composition. He imbues the backdrop with negative space, such that the figures appear suspended in mid air, floating dreamily in a backlit space. These artistic choices create an atmosphere of serenity, emphasizing the human connection being made in a simple, transactional relationship, one that peppered his circadian experiences while living in Indonesia.

Rojak Seller is a depiction of human camaraderie — the intimacy between the children and woman as seen per the artist’s observation of this singular moment from village life. Here, each character is gifted with his or her own physiognomies and characteristics, the painting acting as a narrative of their interlocking relationships, or alternatively as the female paragon with surrounding youth. Women were a staple in his oeuvre, and he remained faithful to this subject matter throughout his career. Lee not only immortalized the elegance of the female spirit, but also rejoiced their contributions as the matriarchs and nurturers of their communities. The artist elevates her status by depicting her with a sense of femininity and beauty. Her posture, poised and nimble, is a mark of her sophistication. Her hands are nimble and delicate, despite the laborious nature of her work. Next to the rojak seller, the family waits patiently while cattle graze behind them, noticeable only through the faint lines of their silhouettes.

With his marriage of Eastern metaphors and Western techniques, Lee delineates and arranges each character across the tranquil landscape, which allows him to demonstrate proportion and generate a sense of movement within the panoramic vista. Lee’s artistic imagination and flexibility sets him apart as one of the most dexterous and expressive reformist Chinese artists of his era. By drawing elements from Western compositional forms and Chinese traditions, Lee pays homage to his cultural lineage in Rojak Seller, commemorating those that humbly serve as the heart of Indonesia.

[1] Ho Kung-Shang, Michelle Loh, The Oil Paintings of Lee Man Fong, Art Book Co. Ltd.,Singapore, 2014, p. 7