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Lot 081

b. China, 1906 - d. Singapore, 1991

EGRETS, Undated

Signed in Chinese ‘文希作’ with seal lower left
Inscribed by artist Chung Chen Sun ‘文希吾师精品‘;
signed in Chinese with seal (left of scroll)
Ink on rice paper mounted on scroll
139cm x 72cm

Private collection, Kuala Lumpur.

ESTIMATE  RM 90,000 - 120,000

Chen Wen Hsi was known for his alluring rendering of nature through the medium he loved most - Chinese ink. He was fond of painting animals namely gibbons, squirrels, and various species of birds like pelicans, flamingos and storks. This particular painting of egrets is also one of the favoured birds besides herons and ducks. They suit the Chinese ink and brush repertoire because of its play of nuances of black and grey.

Wen Hsi tended to emphasise and modulate certain features of the images to achieve a sense of distortion in the picture making process. Influenced by the painter and calligrapher Bada Shanren - a descendent of the Ming dynasty - he explained the source of his inspiration: “Some people have commented that the egrets I paint have elongated bodies. To me, these are not egrets from real life but imaginary ones.” Only when one masters the eye to keenly observe, can one visualise and render the image from memory. This is without doubt an ability that Wen Hsi had earned from his perceptiveness towards nature as seen in the gracefully composed egrets here.

The highly regarded painter and art educator received his formal art schooling from the Shanghai Academy of Fine Arts (1928) and then enrolled at Xinhua Academy of Fine Arts (1932) in Shanghai, during which he was exposed to both traditional Chinese painting as well as Western art. His tutelage under the great Pan Tian Shou and Zhu Wen Yun had given him a solid foundation although he also benefited from the sense of Western perspective under the training of Tan Hemu and Ni Yide.

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.