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Lot 080

b. China, 1906 - d. Singapore, 1991


Signed in Chinese "文希指墨" with Chinese seal upper left
Ink and colour on rice paper mounted on scroll
69cm x 45cm

Private collection, Kuala Lumpur; acquired directly from the

ESTIMATE  RM 40,000 - 60,000

Chen Wen Hsi takes the composition of three ducks swimming downstream in a line from his favourite bird’s-eye view angle. Sparse branches with clusters of flowers balance the top left half, while the orange stamens and white petals reflect the colours of the ducks’ beaks. The deliberate arrangement of the ducks creates an illusion of buoyancy as they glide effortlessly to the corner of our eye. Wen Hsi’s fondness for depicting ducks could have been inspired one of his favourite spiritual masters, Badashanren (a.k.a. Zhu Da, 1626-1725).

An influential figure in shaping Wen Hsi’s artistic career, Pan Tianshou had also taught him the technique of finger painting. The use of this technique made him feel liberated: “..the absence of the brush makes way for direct painting on paper in a freer, more expressive manner. I often use my finger to write calligraphy and paint the goldfish and Chinese wisteria. To me, it feels very much like applying oil paints with the palette knife to produce a painting. The freedom of expression derived from the experience is naturally a delight and joy.” As a student, the works of the Old Masters were to become the foundation of his training: Wu Changshuo (1844-1927) and Pan Tianshou (1898-1971) from whom he devotedly studied the art of calligraphy and seal carving.

Chen Wen Hsi was an artist and one of the finest finger-painters, an academician and a gallerist (1976 to 1985). He arrived in Singapore in 1949 and taught at the Chinese High School for 20 years and at the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts (NAFA) from 1951 to 1959. The legendary trip to Java and Bali with Cheong Soo Pieng, Liu Kang and Chen Chong Swee in 1952 resulted in the development of the Nanyang style. He was awarded Singapore’s Public Service Star for his educationist zeal and role in advancing Chinese ink painting in 1964. Wen Hsi’s life-time accomplishment was recognised posthumously with the Meritorious Service Medal awarded by the government of Singapore in 1992 in conjunction with the National Day Honours Award. His other accolades included the Asean Cultural and Communications Award in 1987 and the Taiwan National Museum’s Gold medal in 1980. In 1975, the National University of Singapore awarded him an honorary degree and he was honoured with a Retrospective exhibition in 1982.

Convergences: Chen Wen Hsi Centennial Exhibition, Singapore Art Museum, 2006.

Master of Tradition and Innovation, Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts, Singapore, 2006.