GEORGETTE CHEN (1906-1993)
GEORGETTE CHEN (1906-1993)
GEORGETTE CHEN (1906-1993)
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GEORGETTE CHEN (1906-1993)
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GEORGETTE CHEN (1906-1993)

Salted Fish and Wine Jar

GEORGETTE CHEN (1906-1993)
Salted Fish and Wine Jar
signed ‘CHEN’ (upper right); numbered ‘15’ (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
65.3 x 54.1 cm. (25 3⁄4 x 21 1⁄4 in.)
Painted circa 1940-1945
Private collection, Singapore (acquired directly from the artist)
Acquired from the above by the present owner
Ministry of Community Development & National Museum, Pioneer Artists of Singapore Georgette Chen Retrospective 1985, exh. cat., Ministry of Community Development & National Museum, Singapore, 1985 (illustrated, no. 33, unpaged).
National Art Gallery, GEORGETTE CHEN, exh. cat., National Art Gallery, Kuala Lumpur, 1986 (illustrated, unpaged).
Singapore, National Museum Art Gallery, Georgette Chen Retrospective 1985, November 1985.
Kuala Lumpur, National Art Gallery, GEORGETTE CHEN, July – August 1986.

Brought to you by

Jacky Ho (何善衡)
Jacky Ho (何善衡) Senior Vice President, Deputy Head of Department

Lot Essay

‘I have just continued to be attracted by people around me, their lives, objects and the glorious landscape of Mother Nature.’——Geogette Chen

Highly praised as one of the most seminal Asian artists of the 20th century, Georgette Chen’s still-lifes embody the astounding quality that reflects highly in the market. Dating from 1940-45, her Salted Fish and Wine Jar is a rare still life with unique subject matter created during the artist’s China and Hong Kong period. The present work is exceptionally noteworthy for its uncommon theme, featuring cooking ingredients like dried fishes, eggs and wine jar on a bamboo chair, all rarely seen in Chen’s known Southeast Asian fruits and flora still-lifes. Many still-life paintings of this similar theme are housed in public collections, making works like Salted Fish and Wine Jar rarely found in private hands.

Chen’s preoccupation and evolution as an artist is crystallised in her still-life compositions. In the present work, Chen meticulously renders the appearances of each subject, including various dried fishes, wine jar, two eggs, among other cooking ingredients on a bamboo chair, is observed in the varied brushstrokes and impastos, each applied to suit the form and texture of the object. The various objects are united by continuous movement suggested by their outlines and brushstrokes, interwoven with the diagonal lines suggested by the structure of the chair, creating a momentum of rhythm. The distortions of nature for pictorial balance seen in this work implies post-impressionist influence. Like Cezanne, Chen emphasised the solidity and geometric structure of her forms and created a sense of permeance and stability. Salted Fish and Wine Jar reveals how the artist imbued vibrancy and life into the simplest of everyday motifs, offering the viewer a glimpse into her robust creative urge under her restricted living situation at the time.

Being recognised famously as one of the five pioneer Singaporean ‘Nanyang Style’ artists (others include Cheong Soo Pieng, Chen Chong Swee, Chen Wen Hsi and Liu Kang), Chen’s captivating biography and vigorous artistic exploration lends exceptional depth and character to her works even prior to her arrival in Southeast Asia in 1950. As the daughter of a progressive Chinese family; a young avant-garde painter in Paris; a wife of an emissary as well as an artist, teacher and inspiration of the recent independent Singapore, Chen led a cosmopolitan and multi-faceted life. During her ‘China and Hong Kong period’ (1934-50), Chen had held five major solo exhibitions in Paris (1936 and 1950), China (1943 and 1947), and New York (1949). Her works were exhibited at some of the most avant-garde venues, such as Le Salon d’Automne (1930 and 1949), Le Salon des Independents, and Le Salon des Tuileries. Amidst various 20th century artistic developments in Europe, Chen stayed away from many art trends such as Cubism and Dadaism. She claimed, ‘I have just continued to be attracted by people around me, their lives, objects and the glorious landscape of Mother Nature’(J. Chia, Georgette Chen, Singapore 1997, p.7).

During Japanese occupation of China, Georgette Chen and her diplomat husband Eugene Chen had nearly four years of internment by the Japanese in Hong Kong and later in Shanghai between 1941 and 1944. The present work was likely to be created during this interval of physical confinement in Chen’s ‘China and Hong Kong period’, where she continued to hone her sharp observation and instill vitality in mundane domestic objects. Chen’s consistent fascination with everyday objects is expressed in her curious choice of subject matter, the distinctive manner of capturing details and her reflexive investigation of representational and compositional models. Consistently depicting elements and scenes from everyday life, Chen’s commitment to illustrating each object with such virtuosity embodies her receptivity toward the rich and diverse environments she encountered throughout her life.

Relocating to Singapore in the early 50s, Chen quickly became a key figure in the development of modern art in Southeast Asia, and one of the few female Asian artists internationally recognized during her time. Chen’s contributed to Singapore art education as a teacher at the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts (NAFA) from 1954 to 1981 and was awarded the Cultural Medallion in Singapore in 1982. Chen’s estate donated 53 paintings of the artist to the Singapore Art Museum in 1994 and continues to contribute to Singapore art through Georgette Chen Arts Scholarship, the Council of Women’s Organizations, and the Practice Theatre Ensemble. Georgette Chen has undoubtedly left behind a legacy in Singapore’s art history.

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