(Singaporean, 1911-2004)
View of the Palace
signed and dated 'Liu Kang 1951'; signed in Chinese 'Kang' (lower right)
oil on canvas
74 x 97.5 cm. (29 1/8 x 38 5/8 in.)
Painted in 1951
Acquired directly from the artist by Madam Lee Howe
Thence by descent to the present owner
Private Collection, Singapore

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Lot Essay

View of the Palace (Lot 162) is one of the most expansive landscape painting ever done by Liu Kang of a scene within Southeast Asia and the largest sized painting of the artist to come to market yet. Like his contemporaries, the Nanyang artists Cheong Soo Pieng and Chen Wen Hsi, Liu Kang's paintings of sights and scenes he observed on his travels became the core of his most recognizable Nanyang oeuvre.

Liu Kang played a formative role in the development of the Nanyang style that made a vernacular of the aesthetics of the school of Paris and traditional Chinese easel painting came about when he began to assimilate and paint local subjects in the Southeast Asian region. Liu Kang first came to Singapore in 1942 but it was not until 1952 that he, together with Chen Chong Swee, Chen Wen Hsi and Cheong Soo Pieng, made a trip to Bali in Indonesia where the artists' search of a new artistic language took coherent form in the foregrounding of particular Southeast Asian subjects in their paintings.

View of the Palace was painted a year before the Bali trip, and art-historically significant for portraying the style of the artist before the landmark Bali trip. The painting portrays the old Sultan of Johor palace preceding the more lowly-set structure today. During the time Liu Kang painted the picture, it was a magnificent building with prominent tall towers that provide an expansive view into the surroundings and certainly into Singapore on the opposite side of the Singapore Straits. In painting the work, Liu Kang demonstrated an acute sensitivity to the quiet beauty and elegance of the colonial building, setting the building modestly within a composition where the flora and fauna is as much a key pictorial element as the palace itself.

The painting bears solid provenance, having been acquired from Liu Kang by Madam Lee Howe, the first lady choral conductor in Singapore. Being a great music enthusiast, and an active and distinctive member of the arts scene, Madam Lee Howe was friends with the most prominent artists of her days, including Liu Kang. Like Liu Kang who studied art in Shanghai and Paris and later taught in Shanghai, Madam Lee Howe was a cosmopolitan of her time, having studied music in Shanghai, Germany and England before concentrating on the music scene in Singapore in which she contributed greatly as composer, musician and educator.

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