Lot 082

b. Sarawak, 1886 - d. Penang, 1962


Signed and dated ‘MUN SEN 1955’ (lower right)
Watercolour on paper
25.5cm x 36.5cm

Private Collection, Penang.

Yong Mun Sen Retrospective, Penang State Art Gallery, 1999; illustrated on exhibition catalogue page 73.

ESTIMATE  RM 12,000 - 18,000
Illustrated here is a scene at a harbour with junk ships sailing in and out of the port, three figures are seen on a jetty perhaps waiting to unload goods from the ancient Chinese ship. Executed in 1955, this nostalgic watercolour piece not only records a historical landscape - as junk ships today are being replaced with cargo ships and labourers now operate machinery to load and unload containers - it conveys the artist’s perceptive eye in capturing his contemporary life. His best works were known to contain swift and scarce brushstrokes and clever composition illustrating the working class and local economy as seen here. Attention is paid to the foreground, wooden planks act as a frame to lure the viewer’s eyes toward the figures on the jetty and a large junk ship and its silhouettes in the background.

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.

Present in Mun Sen’s best works, the speed of the brush and the scarcity of strokes are evident here. 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.

Valuation report by Spink & Son, Ltd., London, July 1979 (listed under ‘Watercolour Paintings, No. 51).
Pioneers of Malaysian Art
, The Art Gallery, Penang, 1994.
Yong Mun Sen Retrospective
, The Penang State Art Gallery, 1999.