YONG MUN SEN
b. Sarawak, 1896 - d. Penang, 1962
PORTRAIT OF NYONYA LADY, c. 1930s
Signed (lower right); Inscribed on reverse
Hand painted photograph
26cm x 19cm
Private Collection, Selangor.
ESTIMATE RM 6,000 - 8,000
Featuring at HBArt auction for the very first time is a medium rarely seen in public by the watercolour and oil maestro Yong Mun Sen. Portrait of a Nyonya Lady is a hand painted photograph captured at the artist’s photography studio which was established in 1922. More than 7 decades later, Penang Museum and Art Gallery honoured the ‘Father of Malaysian Art’ with a posthumous Retrospective exhibition in 1999. Its guest curator, Dr. Tan Chong Guan wrote in the exhibition catalogue about Yong Mun Sen’s profession not only as a painter but also as a photographer in an essay titled The Life of Yong Mun Sen:
“Photography was relatively new in Penang at the time. Mun Sen picked up the art of photography and saw its commercial potential. In 1922, he invested in expensive photographic equipment and set up Tai Koon Art Studio in Chulia Street, probably the first photographic studio in Penang. The studio was popularly patronised for studio photographs. In those days, enlarged photographs needed a lot of delicate touching up and Mun Sen’s artistic skills aided him greatly. More importantly the studio served to display Mun Sen’s paintings for public viewing. There was no doubt that Mun Sen’s true love was in painting. The photo studio merely served as an income earner so that he could be free to paint.”
Based on this account, the portrait on offer is a historical testament to Yong Mun Sen’s profession as an accomplished commercial photographer, capturing images of wealthy Peranakan clients such as this lady as shown by her jewelries.
After witnessing a Japanese artist painting in his family’s coconut and pepper plantation, Yong Mun Sen (born Yong Yen Lang) became inspired to become a painter. He changed his name to Yong Mun Sen in 1922, two years after settling in Penang. He had established a photography studio named Tai Woon / Wei Guan Art Studio in 1922 and renamed it Mun Sen studio in 1930 which then became a favourite meeting place for fellow artist-friends namely Tay Hooi Keat, Kuo Ju Ping, Khaw Sia, Lee Cheng Yong, Abdullah Ariff and other pioneering Malaysian artists. He co-founded the Penang Chinese Art Club in 1935 and was elected vice president. He initiated the formation of Singapore Chinese Art Club the same year. Posthumous memorial exhibitions were honoured to him in Singapore (1966), Galeri 11, Kuala Lumpur (1966), the National Art Gallery, Kuala Lumpur (1972) and the Penang State Art Gallery (PSAG, 1972). Dubbed ‘The Father of Malaysian Art’ by many, Yong Mun Sen has left behind a remnant of history for the present and future art enthusiasts to remember him by. The great Xu Bei-hong (1895 - 1953) described Mun Sen as “the most outstanding figure in Malaysian art and one of the few top artists in the tropics.”
Yong Mun Sen, Retrospective 1999 , Penang Museum and Art Gallery, 1999.