Lot 029

b. Sarawak, 1886 - d. Penang, 1962

, 1948

Signed and dated ‘MUN SEN 1948’ (lower left)
Oil on canvas
54cm x 64cm

Private Collection, Penang;
acquired through Christie’s Southeast Asian Paintings sale, Singapore, 26 March 1995, lot 609.

ESTIMATE  RM 35,000 - 50,000

From 1946 to 1955, Yong Mun Sen chose as his protagonists; farmers, fishermen, blacksmiths and rubber tappers. In these depictions he transforms these characters into everyday heroes, worthy for their hardworking attitude and upright lifestyle. Illustrated in oil on canvas, this is an exemplary piece of a lone fisherman in his boat, moored at the shore. Set in dusk, the sky is filled with the awe inspiring colours of the rising and setting of the sun. Reflections from the hills in the background as well as the fisherman and his boats appear in the water, fusing in multi-hued splendour. It is an exquisite rendering of nature and the artist’s contemplation of man’s place in it.

In 1910, after witnessing a Japanese watercolour artist at work in his family’s plantation, coupled with the set of watercolours given by his Dutch neighbour, Yong Mun Sen started experimenting with the medium and eventually became one of its greatest exponents. Later in Singapore, he continued sketching and painting whenever possible, making friends with artists like famed Singaporean watercolour painter Lim Cheng Hoe along the way, who was an ardent admirer of his work. When Mun Sen moved to Penang in 1920, he instantaneously fell in love with the tropical island. His studio along Penang Road was a favourite meeting place for fellow artist friends including Tay Hooi Keat, Kuo Ju Ping, Khaw Sia, Lee Cheng Yong, Abdullah Ariff and other pioneering Malaysian artists. This group was later formed as the Penang Chinese Art Club in 1935. The 1946 to 1955 period was Mun Sen’s most creative and productive years, where he brilliantly captured the everyday heroes of farmers, fishermen, blacksmiths and rubber tappers in their glorious and honest beauty.

Artist Lee Joo For described it best: “Very few artists in the world’s wide expanse can be found during the time of Mun Sen and before and even after, who can manifest the same combination of speed, economy and dexterity with his calligraphic brush in capturing the glories of nature as this humble man. With a spirit of daring and original self-expression, Mun Sen can be confidently considered as one of those precious artists who most influenced the birth and growth of modern and contemporary Malaysian art.” 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.” He co-founded the Penang Chinese Art Club in 1935 (president, 1937) and was a vice-president of the Singapore Society of Chinese Artists in 1936. He was given Memorial exhibitions in Singapore (1966), Galeri 11, Kuala Lumpur (1966), the National Art Gallery, Kuala Lumpur (1972) and the Penang State Art Gallery (PSAG, 1972). In 1999, the PSAG presented him a retrospective. Dubbed ‘The Father of Malaysian Art’ by many, Yong Mun Sen’s struggles as the country’s first full-time artist and also an activist to boot, with influences spreading to Singapore and China, are the stuff of legends.

Yong Mun Sen Retrospective
, Penang State Art Gallery, 1999.
Pioneers of Malaysian Art
, The Art Gallery, Penang, 1994.