Lot 034

b. Chna, 1906 - d. Singapore, 1991


Signed in Chinese with seal (upper left)
Ink and colour on rice paper
62cm x 44cm

Private Collection, Penang;
acquired directly from the artist.

ESTIMATE  RM 40,000 - 60,000

Egrets move in flocks but here a solitary bird looms imperiously surveying the landscape, probably a rice field or mudflat with the long and broad beak pointing towards the right. It looks satiated like having had its fill of fish or frogs. The thin spindly long legs are slightly outstretched, exuding confidence and stability. All these are signs of a contented life and self-assurance. Egrets are one of Chen Wen Hsi’s favourite subjects besides a menagerie of herons and gibbons which are depicted in the Singapore $50 currency note. Egrets are from the same family as herons and bitterns sharing the same habitat and body profiles. The composition is fairly stark with black and sepia-brown tones with the only concession to colour being the hibiscus-looking flowers on the right and the turquoise splotches in the foreground. A few broad horizontal strokes on top set depth to the picture.

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 fingerpainters, 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.