(Singaporean, 1917-1983)
Nature's Inspiration
signed in Chinese and dated '1963' (lower right)
oil on canvas, triptych
each: 127 x 92 cm. (50 x 36 1/4 in.)
overall: 127 x 276 cm. (50 x 108 5/8 in.)
Painted in 1963
Redfern Gallery, London, UK
Acquired from the above by the previous owner
Private Collection, USA
Acquired from the above by the present owner in the 1980s
Private Collection, USA
Redfern Gallery, Cheong Soo Pieng , London, United Kingdom, 1963 (unpaginated, catalogue entry no. 1).
London, UK, Redfern Gallery, Cheong Soo Pieng, 23 April-17 May 1963 (catalogue no. 19).

If you wish to view the condition report of this lot, please sign in to your account.

Sign in
View condition report

Lot Essay

A first-generation Chinese who migrated to Singapore, and became firmly entrenched within what is now known as the 'Nanyang' style - or school - of Singapore art, Cheong Soo Pieng has been widely acclaimed as an artist whose personal career has undergone a myriad of transformations: stylistically ranging from the experimental to the traditional; with motifs drawn from the warmly local to elegantly abstract.
Born in Xiamen, China, in 1917, Cheong Soo Pieng received formal art education in traditional Chinese ink painting at the Xiamen Academy of Fine Arts, and later attended the Xin Hua Academy of Fine Arts in Shanghai where he was exposed to Western artistic styles such as abstraction, Cubism and Surrealism. He was deeply aware of a shift taking place in Chinese art: the push away from the traditional into the brave new world of modernism - reflecting the social and political inclinations of mid-20th century China, and the Western influences which trickled in through the coloured plates, engravings and art books sent home by émigré artists. Cheong developed an awareness of the colour theory of the Fauvists in tandem with the modernism of Matisse, which evolved to the shattered forms of Picasso and Braque; and the cohesions of shapes favored by Kandinsky to the abstract expressionism of Mark Rothko.
Arriving in Singapore in 1946, Cheong sought a continuation of the modern Chinese art movement within his new surroundings in tropical Southeast Asia. Along with his contemporaries, Chen Chong Swee, Liu Kang, and Chen Wen Hsi, Cheong pioneered what later became hailed as the Nanyang School: a style of art that was largely concerned with the integration of traditional Chinese art forms with modern developments in Western art, depicting the vivid context of Southeast Asia as their main subject matter.
By the early 1960s, Cheong's artistic portfolio received such acclaim that he was invited to tour Europe, producing and exhibiting works in the United Kingdom and Germany. This particular phase of Cheong's career has become known as his 'European' or 'London' period because it was during the course of this trip that he cultivated a specific style of Sino-Western abstract painting which has especially resonated with his international audience until today. The works produced and displayed throughout Cheong's Europe trip reflect a similar aesthetic: masterful abstract landscapes of bold vermillion, crimson or yellow backgrounds, and dense painterly intersections of black, blue and red, rendered with calligraphic intensity. Cheong showed a distinct preference for the intersection of earth and sky, with a rising or setting sun clearly in evidence - the insignia of cyclical birth and life.
In 1963, the renowned Redfern Gallery at Cork Street, London organised two exhibitions by two promising Chinese émigré artists. Cheong Soo Pieng's exhibition at the Redfern Gallery ran from 23 April to May 17 while Zao Wou-Ki's exhibition was from 29 October to 29 November in the same year. For Cheong Soo Pieng, the Redfern solo exhibition was the culmination of a successful European tour; which had commenced with the Bond Street Galleries of Fost & Reed in London in March 1962 and a second exhibition at Galerie Schoninger, Munich, in November 1962.
Nature's Inspiration (Lot 13), painted in 1963, was the headline work of the Redfern Gallery exhibition. Listed as the first work within the exhibition catalogue, we can infer that the monumental three-panel painting was considered by artist and audience as outstanding, being a clear representation of Cheong's finest endeavors. Nature's Inspiration simultaneously fulfills several different artistic achievements within a single work. Firstly it re-invents the classical Chinese genre of shanshui (landscape painting) through its gestural calligraphic strokes and strongly Oriental aesthetic; yet at the same time it incorporates Western modernism through its dynamic colour palette, thickly layered oil paint and abbreviated visual motifs.
This affinity to depict a monumental nature landscape brings Cheong into close resonance with his Chinese forebears, a lineage which can be traced to the ilk of those such as Northern Song painter Guo Xi, who penned the artistic treatise 'The Lofty Message of Forest and Streams', an instructive text on how to paint landscapes. Guo banished the constraints of perspective and sought to present an angle of unified totality in approaching landscape portrayals. The awe-inspiring result of such a holistic depiction of nature's glory was, in turn, a commentary on the fleeting nature of humanity and evoked meditative contemplation within its viewer. In a sense, Guo's treatise encompasses the 12th century version of modernism - an attempt to move beyond a factually descriptive, hence limited, pictorial plane. Cheong resurrects this revered tradition of landscape painting superbly within Nature's Inspiration, which is neither fettered by bounded perspective nor concerns over mimesis. Instead he merges the principles of Chinese landscape with Western abstraction for a unified visual impact, breaking through pictorial conventions to create a stunningly emotive and powerful panorama.

More from Asian 20th Century & Contemporary Art (Evening Sale)

View All
View All