Due to Singapore and Malaya's strategic location at the crossroad of trade between the West and the Far East, the influence of colonial artists and their focus on depicting picturesque, idyllic and pastoral landscapes was felt deeply by Singaporean and Malayan artists of the modern era. The assimilation of Western and Eastern painting methodologies were used by these artists to capture landscapes and sceneries and have contributed immeasurably to the forging of local art history through the medium of watercolour. This season, Christie's is proud to present exceptional watercolour works by five of the most representative Singaporean and Malaysian artists in this medium, epitomizing the Nanyang sensibility in their works.
Lim Cheng Hoe is recognized alongside Cheong Soo Pieng, Chen Wen Hsi and Liu Kang as one of the key pioneer artists in Singapore. Noted for his extraordinary talent in art while studying at Raffles Institution, he was guided directly by Richard Walker, then the Arts Superintendent of Singapore schools. Credited for the consolidation of interest in watercolour art in Singapore, he founded the Singapore Watercolour society in 1969. Lim Cheng Hoe's Kampung at Tanah Merah (Lot 315) is a characteristic work of the artist, capturing perfectly the tranquillity and idylle of an old-fashioned village in the eastern part of Singapore, an idealization of the tropical kampung, its communities and lifestyles.
Ong Kim Seng, a second-generation member of the Singapore Watercolour Society that Lim Cheng Hoe founded, and its president from 1991 to 2001, is among Singapore's most evocative realist painters. Similarly inspired from his surroundings, Ong Kim Seng's evocative work The Veranda at the Warehouse (Read Bridge) (Lot 314) epitomizes the artist's attention to detail, as well as the unique way he is able to almost still time - transporting the viewers to another era. While the veranda in this painting is a setting for the bustling vibrancy of Singaporean life in the 1980s and 1990s, Ong Kim Seng lends attention to the barber, a dying trade in modernising Singapore, guiding viewers to a throwback into a different era.
Another masterful watercolour representation of old Singapore is Tan Choon Ghee's Bustling Chinatown (Lot 316). Tan Choon Ghee, born in 1930, is considered one of the most established artists in Malaysia. Trained in the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts (NAFA) in Singapore, his paintings exemplify the vibrancy and liveliness that comes with the use of watercolour as a medium. Bustling Chinatown's oblique lines and the representation of people in action, creating a convivial and lively atmosphere is reminiscent of Singapore in the late 1970s.
It would be remiss to speak of Singaporean and Malaysian masters of watercolour if one did not mention Abdullah Ariff - a pioneer of watercolour painting in Malaysia, along with his contemporary, Yong Mun Sen. Christie's is proud to present works by both leading artists this season, with Abdullah Ariff's The Hill Spring, 12th Milestone, Penang (Lot 313) and Yong Mun Sen's A Tropical Beach (Lot 317). A distinct body of works in Ariff's oeuvre revolves around the theme of man as cilivisation against the wild, natural jungle, whereby Man, insolitude or in small groups, attempt to tame the mighty forest. In the present lot, Abdullah Ariff paints a clearing by a river, with the canopy painted in resplendent rainbow colours. Boys frolick by the riverside, a picture of real idyllic charm. Ariff's representation of the three young men is almost a metaphor of the inevitable confluence of civilization and the wild.
A Tropical Beach, on the other hand, is a wonderfully illustrative depiction of the tropical beaches of South East Asia. Yong Mun Sen is acknowledged as the father of modern Malaysian painting, and indeed, the highly naturalistic portrayal of the swaying coconut trees enlivens the foreground, while the depiction of the fishermen is indicative of Yong Mun Sen's extraordinary grasp of depth and perspective, while simultaneously conjuring images of a quieter, simpler period in the history of the country.