LEE MAN FONG (Chinese, 1913-1988).
Lee Man Fong was born on November 14, 1913 in Guangdong, China. Fong moved to Singapore in 1917 and studied at the Anglo-Chinese School until 1929. In 1932 he migrated to Java and worked for Kolff, a Dutch printing and publishing company. In 1936 the head of the Dutch East Indies Association in Batavia invited Fong to participate in an exhibition, a great honor since he was the first non-Dutch artist to be given this invitation. He was married to Lie Muk Lan — a pianist — and his son Lee Rem, born in 1938, also became a painter who would later exhibit jointly with his father.
After 1940 Fong devoted himself full-time to painting. He visited Bali, working briefly there, and held solo shows in Jakarta and Bandung. Fong quickly gained recognition for his paintings of Balinese subjects, many influenced by the work of Willem Hofker. He then held a solo show in Jakarta in 1941, after which he was interned by the Japanese.
In 1949 Fong was awarded a Malino scholarhip to study art in the Dutch Netherlands. He was there for three years, and then returned to Indonesia where his talent was acknowledged by President Soekarno, to whom he became an art advisor.
From 1955 to 1961 Fong served as the chairman of Yinhua Meishu Xiehui (Society of Chinese Artists in Indonesia). From 1961 to 1966 he served as court painter at the presidential palace. In 1964, Lee Man Fong, together with Lim Wasim, compiled a 5-volume edition of the Soekarno Collection, which also featured many of his own works.
During this period Fong was awarded Indonesian citizenship. In 1967, when Soekarno fell from grace, Man Fong, who was considered close to Sukarno, and alleged to have communist inclinations, and this resulted in the artist’s decision to move to Singapore in 1970. His career continued to thrive, and he was often given lucrative commissions by Chinese businessmen who wanted him to paint animals of the Chinese zodiac.
In the 1980’s Lee Man Fong suffered from kidney and heart disease, and became increasingly private.
Lee Man Fong, who returned to Indonesia in 1985, died on April 3, 1988 in Jakarta.
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