Lot 074

b. Selangor, 1936 - d. Kuala Lumpur, 2013


Signed 'NAITONG' (lower left)
Watercolour on paper
56.5cm x 30cm

Private Collection, Kuala Lumpur.

ESTIMATE  RM 3,000 - 5,000

Soothing is a word to describe this calming piece, like the soft flapping of wings and the glide of the white seagulls in the gentle wind. Rectangular bands of light and soft pastel hues descend imperceptibly to darker tones at the bottom. There a flock of the birds hovers probably in search of prey whereas the pair of birds on top is on another plane altogether. This is perhaps Tew Nai Tong’s attempt to explore landscape abstraction in watercolour. The scene is neutralised by dream-like patches of abstract and lifted in spirit by
the birds in flight with the artist imaging himself soaring in the sky. Titled Flying Figures, it echoes Nai Tong’s works of the same title depicting Chagall-like floating human forms.



With an artistic career spanning a lifetime, Tew Nai Tong was a revered figurative painter who devoured his art in the style of Nanyang and at the same time distinctively developed his own visual language. A Nai Tong picture is greatly admired for the artist’s rendition of his hallmark themes - the female form in rural settings, depictions of bird cages and kiteflying, scenes from agricultural and trade activities, illustrations of life in Bali, and the like – executed in his signature technique. His stylistic approach entailed female figures and portraits illustrated in the manners influenced by Cubism with women wearing ‘phoenix eyes’ to suggest the beauty and allurement of Asian women, wild brushstrokes echoing Fauvism and a romantic colour palette reflecting the Southern Seas finished with a coarse texture imbuing the elegance of rusticity.

The assimilation between Western art sentiment and Oriental centricity evident in Nai Tong’s magnum opuses is significantly attributable to his formal art education. Trained at the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts, Singapore (1956 – 1958), he later pursued his artistic endeavours at the prestigious Ecole Nationale Superieuere des Beaux Arts in France (1967 – 1968). Upon returning from his academic venture, he was known to voyage across distant lands in search of inspiration. Through his broadened perception of simple living, one is able to observe an enriched visualisation of the villages he visited, expressed in a profound manner. His portraits reveal a veracious affection and admiration for women, nature and life in the countryside. Single figures to a group of women in a range of poses are typically portrayed in his compositions, completing his canvas thoughtfully with his imaginative use of space.

Devoted to diversity, Nai Tong produced exceptional pieces that truly represented him as a prolific artist, depicted in a plethora of styles as exemplified in this remarkable tribute collection. The myriad of modes and mediums include an oil on board piece illustrating the scenery of a fishing village, two watercolour pieces of abstract and landscape scenes, and four figurative oil paintings on canvas. Conceived from important phases of his life, this assemblage of works are derived from 1960s (pre-Paris), 1980s, 1990s and 2000s. This unique homage serves as an examination of Nai Tong’s artistic development and a testimony of a dynamic and vital spirit conveyed through his pictures.

Tew Nai Tong’s first solo show was held at the British Council, Kuala Lumpur in 1964 and he was honoured with a retrospective exhibition at the National Art Gallery in 2007. He had participated in numerous group shows locally and abroad namely in Japan, China, Hong Kong and Australia. His awards included Second Prize, Chartered Bank Mural Design Competition (1964), Shell Watercolour Award (1981), Best Award, Esso (1982), Dunlop Watercolour Award (1983) and Grand Prize Asia Art Award (Malaysia) in Seoul, 2009. He served as an advisor to several art societies including the Contemporary Malaysian Watercolourist Association.