Art Detail | Ilham Gallery
Reclining Nude
Reclining Nude

This study, produced during Lee Man Fong’s final years, demonstrates the enduring influence of the Western tradition on the Chinese-born artist’s practice. His six-year-long Dutch sojourn from 1946 to 1952 under the respected Malino Fellowship had a profound influence upon his techniques and styles. These included the seventeenth-century Dutch artist, Rembrandt van Rijn (1606–1669), whose compositional style and analysis of light and shadows would inspire much of Lee’s future works. 

In Reclining Nude, Rembrandt’s influence on Lee is seen most clearly in the unmediated intimacy of his portrayal of the nude female body. Though women featured heavily in Lee’s oeuvre, often depicted engaging in a variety of daily activities, he only painted a few nudes throughout his career. These rare classical nudes are primarily distinguished from other works by the artist in their absence of narrative, thereby placing complete attention upon the women. In this work, his subject reclines along a chaise longue with her right knee bent forward. She wears a long sheer gown that drapes across the sides of her body, opened up to reveal a frontal view of her nude figure. Lee focuses on the fall of the drapery across the figure and the furniture, heightened with the application of white pastel. A softer application of the dominant red pastel is used to convey the mass and curves of the sitter’s body, whose definition fades towards the right of the composition. In contrast, a heavier hand is used to sketch the woman’s hair as well as shadows falling across the figure and areas of the furniture towards the bottom of the composition. This versatility in the application of pastel demonstrates Lee’s masterful and careful handling of studio studies and the portrayal of the female nude.

Pastel on paper laid on board
48 x 58 cm
Credit Line:
Collection of ILHAM Foundation
© Lee Man Fong
About Lee Man Fong

Lee Man Fong (b. 1913, Guangdong, China–d. 1988, Jakarta, Indonesia) was a prominent artist based in Indonesia and Singapore. He trained in China and in Western Europe, and lived much of his life in Indonesia, developing a particular style that blends together a variety of sources for his quiet yet passionate vision. He often turned to Chinese brushwork and technique in painting his scenes that relied on Western visual conventions. A leading painter and curator, his pioneering vision established the Nanyang style in the 20th century in Indonesia. 

After his father’s death, Lee began working to help support his family, producing images for advertisements. The family moved to Singapore and eventually settled in Jakarta in 1930, where Lee secured a job at Kolff, a Dutch printing company. He became the first non-Dutch artist to be invited to provide works for an exhibition organised by the Dutch East Indies Association. Despite his growing artistic success, he was arrested by the Japanese military government in 1942 for his participation in the revolutionary group Fu Xing She; his jailer, Takahashi Masao, was an admirer of his work and as such, secured his early release within months. As his artistic profile continued to rise, he was awarded a Malino scholarship to study in the Netherlands for three years based on the recommendation of the Dutch Viceroy Hubertus van Mook, for whom Lee had produced a portrait. He exhibited consistently and sold successfully in the Hague and at the Salon in Paris. After his return to Indonesia in 1952, he arrived at his mature style which integrated Western, Chinese and Indonesian traditions in bold yet delicate compositions. In 1961, he was named consultant to the Presidential Palace and the chief curator of its art collection. He continued to exhibit in Indonesia and was heralded as a major artist of the period. His final solo exhibition at the National Gallery in Singapore was a major success, and he donated its proceeds to the National Kidney Foundation. Lee died in Jakarta, Indonesia on April 3, 1988 at the age of 75.

Further Readings
Learning Section
  • Describe the girl in the painting. What is she doing? Where is she looking? What does her facial expression tell us about what she is thinking or how she is feeling? Can we tell what kind of person she is? What is she wearing? Do you think she posed for this portrait? How long did she have to pose for? How did she feel about being a model? Did she know the artist?

  • Where is this woman now? Has she had a good life? Does she remember sitting for this drawing? Do you think she likes this drawing?

  • Do you find this artwork shocking? Is the artist purposely trying to shock the audience? Are there certain images that should not be displayed in a gallery? What are they? Should it be censored?