Lee Man Fong

1913 - 1988

Indonesia, Singapore

Lee Man Fong | 李曼峰 (b. 1913, Guangdong, China; d. 1988, Jakarta, Indonesia) was an important pioneer painter based in Indonesia and Singapore. Much of his work was of the figuration of persons and animals, expressed in Nanyang style.

Lee was educated in Singapore at Yangzheng School and St Andrew’s School. He studied the Lingnan (岭南) style of Chinese brush painting under Mei Yutian, and oil painting under Huang Qingquan. In 1932, he moved to Jakarta where he worked in advertising, while continuing to paint. In 1936, he was invited by the Dutch East Indies Association to exhibit his works. Dutch governor-general B. C. de Jong bought his work Telaga Warna, establishing Lee’s name in the art circles of Indonesia and Holland.

In 1941, Lee devoted himself to painting full-time. He spent three months in Bali, developing an artistic style that was influenced by the Dutch painter Willem Gerard Hofker. Lee held his first solo exhibition in Jakarta (1941) and Bandung, which gained him recognition for his Balinese-themed works. In the mid-1940s, Lee went to study art in The Netherlands on the Malino scholarship. He lived there for six years (1946 – 1952), during which he held four solo exhibitions in Amsterdam and The Hague, and participated in an international salon in Paris.

In 1952, Lee returned to Indonesia. He established and headed the Yinhua Meishu Xiehui (Society of Chinese Artists in Indonesia) (1955 to 1961). He was art consultant and court painter at the Indonesian presidential palace, and chief curator of its art collection (1961 to 1966). In 1964, Lee and fellow court painter Lim Wasim compiled a 5-volume edition of the Soekarno Collection, which also featured many of Lee’s own works.

In 1967, when Soekarno was overthrown, Lee returned to Singapore. During this period, his exhibitions included two solo exhibitions at the Victoria Memorial Hall (1967 and 1981), and his final solo exhibition in 1987 at the National Museum Art Gallery.

Lee’s works have been collected by art museums, and public and private collections internationally.